Holly Lynch – 2022 Speech on Child Bed Poverty

The speech made by Holly Lynch, the Labour MP for Halifax, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons, on 19 December 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) not only for her work on the Petitions Committee, providing time for this petition and making it a priority, but for starkly setting out the pervasive nature of this type of poverty and how it affects children. I join her in paying tribute to Bex Wilson, who started the petition.

The debate has shone a light on how prevalent and stark bed poverty is throughout the UK. According to the Department for Work and Pensions’ households below average income survey from, 26% of children have parents who want to replace worn-out furniture but cannot do so and 19% of children surveyed have parents who want to have a bedroom for every child aged 10-plus of a different gender, but also cannot afford to do so.

I recently spoke to Calderdale Lighthouse, which is a volunteer-ran charity in my constituency. I pay tribute to Diane Barker and her co-founders Donna and Emma, who do incredible work supporting disadvantaged families. As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, the charity has received an ever-constant stream of requests in recent weeks for beddings and beds for vulnerable families, in addition to the other support it provides. In one instance, a health visitor for a family consisting of a single parent—a mother—and two young children found that neither child had a bed, and they asked if Calderdale Lighthouse could provide some. In another case, Calderdale Lighthouse provided blankets, duvets and hot-water bottles to a family that had no gas or electricity and had taken to sleeping in one room in an attempt to preserve heat.

On average, Calderdale Lighthouse receives a request for beds, cots or toddler beds more than twice a week. It has seen instances where victims of domestic violence choose to go back to their abusive partners so that their children are not left cold and without beds. There has been a number of cases where families with young children with continence challenges have struggled to provide them with the beds and bedding necessary. Charities such as Calderdale Lighthouse provide an important lifeline for so many people. Many of us cannot imagine sleeping in a proper bed being a luxury, but for too many children, it is.

As well as creating unhealthy and dangerous living conditions, bed poverty has a devastatingly long-term impact. The disruption caused by not having a bed permeates through every aspect of a child’s life and development. How can we possibly expect children to learn, grow and realise their true potential if they come to school exhausted and weighed down by a disrupted night’s sleep? One of my constituents recently got in touch to powerfully explain this problem. They said,

“I currently reside in a one bedroom flat on 15th floor, which is not ideal. We are overcrowded, my son cannot develop to his full potential in this tiny flat. He also needs his own bedroom as he has trouble sleeping, meaning he’s disrupting my daughter.”

The link between child poverty and children’s outcomes is clear. Data from 2014 showed that less than a third of Calderdale pupils in my area who claim free school meals achieve five or more GCSEs at grade C or above, including English and maths, compared with nearly 60% of all pupils. Unfortunately, bed poverty is symptomatic of a wider trend of growing poverty. Under this Government, the proportion of children in poverty in my constituency has steadily grown. According to the House of Commons Library, 30% of children in Halifax live in relative poverty—an increase of more than 6% since 2015. A further 25.8% of children in Halifax live in absolute poverty. I want every child to have the chance to fulfil their potential, but the cost of living crisis on top of years of austerity has taken us back to an almost Victorian era for some families.

Under this Government, work no longer represents a route out of poverty. According to the Library, 65% of families in relative poverty in Halifax are classified as in-work families. Bed poverty is not seen by many in our society and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North, I frankly do not receive direct contact about it, because it is hidden. Most of the referrals to local charities like Calderdale Lighthouse come via social workers and health visitors, who are required to involve themselves in people’s lives and to visit homes. If they were not there undertaking those roles, such deprivation would probably go completely unseen, and I pay tribute to them for being in those homes, for raising the alarm and for undertaking that work day after day, which I can only imagine has an impact on them as well.

The debate has shown that children up and down the country are suffering in this way, hidden from the line of sight, in people’s homes. The reality is that many children will go to bed in insufficient conditions tonight. We can clearly see the incredibly detrimental impact those conditions are having on children’s broader outcomes. We all bring problems and injustices to Parliament—that is part of our job. However, I say in all honesty that this is one of the hardest speeches I have ever had to write, prepare for and give, so heart breaking is the reality of bed poverty.