Shocking reality of furniture poverty – help end scandal of 500,000 children with no bed

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Chronic sleep deprivation means they cannot stay awake during the school day. It is one of the biggest “unseen poverty” problems crippling the most vulnerable in society.

So the Daily Express is launching a campaign today, urging ministers to implement a National Sleep Strategy to ensure A Bed For Every Head – and to eradicate sleep poverty.

Charities say the total of struggling families who cannot afford beds hit a record high in the pandemic.

One group said 30 per cent of its referrals mention bed poverty that leaves children sleeping on floors, often in squalid conditions without even cushions or blankets.

Young people’s charity Buttle UK said bids for its Chances for Children crisis grants rose by 68 per cent in 2020-21. Research in 2017 found 400,000 children lacked a bed. But staff warn this is “undoubtedly a lot higher” now due to the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

A National Food Strategy review last year gave advice to Parliament to improve health linked to food. Britain needs a similar policy for sleep.

The national End Furniture Poverty (EFP) charity will reveal this week more than 30 English local authorities have cut their welfare scheme, leaving them unable to provide emergency furniture to 13 million people.

The problem is made worse by just two per cent of social housing being furnished, compared with 29 per cent of private rentals.

Also, in the pandemic most government Covid grants for local welfare were spent on free school meals and food banks rather than on the schemes ministers intended.

Claire Donovan, EFP head of policy, said: “If people are struggling to be able to buy food then how on earth do we expect them to buy expensive items such as a bed for their child? It’s a crisis situation.”

Joining the Express’s crusade is primary deputy head teacher Rebekah Wilson, who has spent four years fighting bed poverty in Leeds – delivering mattresses, pillows and duvets to 1,400 children.

The heartbreaking stories she has encountered are replicated in every town across the UK.

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Rebekah set up charity Zarach after a pupil who could not stay awake in an English class admitted that he and his siblings had been sleeping on the floor for months.

Another boy said he was unable to concentrate on his work because he was scratching his stomach. It turned out the cushion he was sleeping on was infested with bed bugs. Rebekah, 35, said: “It’s not right that in 2022, in Britain, we have children that don’t have a bed. Children are not to get an education that can break that cycle unless they’ve got a tummy full of food and a good night’s sleep.”

She added: “Not having a bed means they’re not going to have that starting point. It’s crucial that we make sure every child has their basic needs met, of which getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to them havgoing ing equal opportunity.” After Rebekah set up Zarach – Hebrew for “rising light” – her dad Mark let her use his business storage facilities as donations poured in.

After a full day of teaching at the inner-city Shakespeare school, she spends evenings and weekends delivering beds, mattresses, pyjamas and pillows to desperate families.

Rebekah added: “One thing every story has in common is a child with broken-hearted parents struggling to make ends meet – often choosing between food or heating.

“If that’s their choice then how can we expect them to afford a bed? We need a National Sleep Strategy and it’s fantastic that the Express is crusading for A Bed For Every Head.

“We need central government acknowledgement that the current system is broken and that transformational policy change is required to address child bed poverty and the thousands of tired children sat in UK classrooms it leaves in its wake.”

  • Sign the petition for a National Sleep Strategy at


Everyone deserves a good night sleep, says JOSEPH HOWES

At Buttle UK we believe every child should have the basics most of us take for granted.

But poverty means many children do miss out on these basics, whether it’s a hot meal each day or a home that’s heated.

Government figures show there are 4.2 million children living in poverty in the UK.

Thousands of them do not have their own beds. Instead, they are sleeping on the floor or sharing with parents and siblings.

Having a proper bed aids a good night’s sleep, and that has a knock-on impact on mental health and wellbeing as well as physical health and development. When children are tired they cannot focus at school. At Buttle UK we help fulfil their potential through our Chances for Children grants.

These are tailored packages of financial support – of up to £2,000 – which pay for a range of items and costs designed to help with wellbeing and engagement in education. Beds and bedding were an important part of the £4.1million we spent on grants in the last year. The Covid crisis has exacerbated an already difficult situation for many: more financial pressure, increased isolation and having to spend longer together in cramped, unsuitable conditions. We know it has resulted in more mental health problems, and a rise in domestic abuse.

Leaving an abusive partner can mean a family fleeing with nothing. When there is a new place to live it is often unfurnished.

In 2018, Buttle UK calculated that there were at least 400,000 children in the UK without a bed. Things will have undoubtedly become worse since then.

In the first year of the pandemic demand for our grants soared by almost 70 per cent. The amount we spent on beds nearly tripled. But as the challenges of Covid itself may finally be receding, we are seeing inflation creating ongoing pressure on family budgets.

The ability to afford something as basic as a bed will become even harder in the months to come, as poverty tightens its grip for many families who are already juggling feeding their children and keeping them warm. These are choices nobody should have to face in the UK for their children.

That is why Buttle UK supports the campaign for a National Sleep Strategy. One that promotes the importance of a good night sleep for everyone, but also addresses the need for thousands of children to simply have their own bed.

  • Joseph Howes is CEO at children’s charity Buttle UK

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