140,000 children living in substandard homes

Damp, rotting homes have impact on health
  • Deborah Condon

It is already known that almost 4,000 children in Ireland are currently living in emergency accommodation. However a new report has now revealed that another 140,000 children are living in homes affected by leaks, damp and rot.

According to Growing Up In The Cold from the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), 140,000 children, which is over 12% of all children in Ireland, are living in substandard and poor quality homes.

The report focused on energy poverty, which is defined as a household that is unable to attain an acceptable standard of warmth and energy services in the home at an affordable cost.

It found that these children are living in homes with leaking roofs, damp walls, damp or rotting floors, or rotting window frames.

Using data from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, the report also looked at the potential health impacts living in a cold home can have on children. It found that five-year-olds living in energy poor homes had an increased risk of asthma compared to those who did not.

These children were also more likely to have required two or more courses of antibiotics in the past 12 months.

The report found that specific groups of children were more at risk of energy poverty, including those in the lowest income groups, those whose parents had a disability and those living in homes headed by one parent.

Furthermore, 42% of children living in energy poverty were also experiencing other forms of basic deprivation, such as an inability to afford nutritious food and suitable clothing.

"This report clearly shows that children are one of the groups most exposed to the risk of energy poverty and that growing up in a cold home has a distinct negative impact on a child's health.

"The findings suggest that policy levers to alleviate energy poverty and improve the quality of the housing stock will lead to significant health benefits and a reduction in health expenditure in the future," commented SVP's head of social justice, Dr Tricia Keilthy.

SVP spent over €5 million helping people with the cost of energy in 2018, an increase of 20% on the previous year. Furthermore, the organisation expects to receive more than 50,000 calls for help this winter, many of which will be from families struggling to heat their homes and pay their bills.

"Over the next few weeks and months, SVP will be visiting families who dread winter time because they find it impossible to heat their homes. Our volunteers will meet families trying to cut down on bills by living in one room of the house during the winter months. Others will be sitting in the cold and dark because they have nothing left at the end of the week to top up their pre-pay meter," explained SVP national president, Kieran Stafford.

The report makes a number of recommendations in this area, including calls for a deep retrofit programme of local authority housing, as it is estimated that around 30% of social housing stock is more than 40 years old.

The report can be read here.


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