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Britain: Social Housing Affects Children’s Future

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Growing up in government-assisted housing negatively affects the health, employment, education and overall well-being of future adults, according to research commissioned by the Tenant Services Authority.

The studies, based on interviews from four generations of Britons born from the Second World War to the present, in the years 1946, 1958, 1970 and 2000, indicate that children in social housing—state-funded housing for underprivileged families—fared less when rating themselves in areas of health and health-related behaviors, personal well-being, income, employment and education, than their contemporaries.

According to the research, there were significant differences in health between those reared in public housing and those who are not. Social-housing occupants born in 1970 graded their health 2.92 (out of a possible 4), compared to those who had never lived in public housing, which gave themselves 3.13. Those who lived in government-assisted housing also smoked more cigarettes—5.5 per day compared to the 2.99 per day than their peers smoked. In addition, those who grew up in social housing from 1958 to 1970 were less likely to exercise regularly, and became overweight as they grew older.

In 1946, about 10 percent of all households in Britain were social-housing tenants. This number peaked to 31 percent in 1981, but fell sharply to 19 percent in 2001, as home ownership climbed from as low as less than a third of all households in 1946 to 68 percent in 1991.

The government-funded study also showed significant differences between the two groups in employment retention. Eighty six percent of adults who had never lived in social housing had been employed, as opposed to only 79 percent of adults raised in public-funded housing.

Children with an upbringing in social housing were also more likely to grow up without the same conveniences in their homes as their counterparts, such as hot water, and often lived near more troublesome neighbors.

The research show that social-housing occupants may also marry earlier, particularly women born in 1970, compared to those who own homes, but may not live separately from parents. From 1970 to 2000, the number of single mothers who lived in social housing rose while the number of mothers with paid employment decreased significantly.

In another study by Shelter, a housing charity, 1 out of 12 children living in social housing is in danger of getting respiratory diseases because of inadequate living conditions.

Proposals to solve this public-housing problem include shortening the duration of their occupancy, which would require tenants to find employment, or educating mothers about how to find work. Researchers have also suggested that social houses, which once served as safety nets, should be improved to be more desirable and at par with homeownership-type housing.


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