Children are sleeping on the floor and on soiled mattresses as families struggle to afford essential furniture due to the financial strain of the rising cost of living, new research has revealed.

One in seven families have revealed they shared beds this winter because they couldn’t afford another for their children, and one in 14 parents say they are still having to share beds now, a report from children’s charity Barnardo’s found.

A mother has described how her young daughter started her periods early and was sleeping on a stained mattress in a bed shared with her brother.

“We now have to plan ahead for new or replacement items in the home,” said the mother. “My daughter started her periods very young. She has been fragile and shy on this subject.

“She was unable to verbalise that the mattress on the bunk beds she shares with her brother have been stained. I tried to scrub them as best I can, but they are permanently soiled.”

Barnardo’s has since supplied her with a new mattress for her children.

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The charity’s new report, A Crisis on Our Doorstep, reveals how the cost of living crisis has affected some of the children, families and young people using its services across the UK during winter 2022-23.

As well as supporting children sleeping on floors and soiled beds, Barnardo’s said it has heard distressing tales about parents going without food or resorting to eating leftovers after their children have eaten; entire families wrapping themselves in blankets in the evenings to avoid putting the heating on and children’s baths being limited due to a lack of money to pay the bills.

Families are wrapping themselves in blankets in the evenings to avoid putting the heating on (Photo: Getty Images)

One Barnardo’s project worker spoke about the poor living conditions she saw with a young mum she was supporting with domestic abuse.

“You can smell the mould when you walk in the house, it’s quite strong,” she said. “The mould is running up the walls and they’re sleeping in the same bed together even though her daughter is about four. We do see issues about families having to share beds quite a lot. It’s quite hard sometimes with these issues because we see it so much we just get used to it.”

Another Barnardo’s worker at a service in Scotland said: “Children of different ages and genders can be sharing a bedroom. That’s not uncommon to find with the difficult housing situation here.

Families are really overcrowded. There just aren’t houses that are big enough available. Often you’ll find that parents will give up their bedrooms, they’re sleeping on the couch for a number of months, maybe even a few years to ensure that their children have their own bedrooms.”

Barnardo’s says the lack of access to beds and bedding is concerning as providing a good night’s sleep is essential for children’s development and important in helping them to fully participate in school.

To coincide with the report, a YouGov poll of 1,010 parents of children aged 18 was carried out in February with about half (49 per cent) saying they were worried about their children missing out on a normal childhood due to them having to make cost of living cutbacks.

Nearly one in three parents (30 per cent) were concerned about being made homeless and around half (49 per cent) were worried about keeping their home warm for their children.

Almost one in four parents (23 per cent) revealed they had recently struggled to provide sufficient food for their children because of the cost of living crisis.

These drastic measures are despite the families saying they have received cost of living payments, warm home discounts, and cold winter payments.

Some families said they have not been able to afford increased housing costs and have been forced to seek emergency temporary accommodation through their local authority.

Mother-of-two Sarah, 37, from Birmingham, is currently in temporary accommodation after struggling in private rented accommodation. “It was very hard with the price rises and everything and in November. We were going with no heating so we could cook,” said Sarah. “I was in tears. What do you do? Put the heating on or feed the kids?

“I bought electrical stuff and socks and blankets and jumpers because we were always cold.”

Children are sleeping on the floor and sharing soiled beds while parents survive on leftover food as families struggle to cope with rising cost of living, new research has revealed (Photo: Barnardo's)
Parents are struggling to manage: “What do you do? Put the heating on or feed the kids?” (Photo: Peter Chamberlain/Barnardo’s)

When it comes to trying to survive financially against escalating food prices, one mum revealed: “I used to go to Lidl or Aldi to get the cheap groceries, but even the cheap groceries aren’t cheap. It’s hard. You’re still only making a little bit of money and everything is more expensive.”

Since October 2022, Barnardo’s has been providing immediate support to struggling families in its services. As of 7 February 2023, this support reached 8,795 people, including 4,992 children and 2,141 families. The overwhelming proportion of support – 68 per cent – was to help prevent hunger.

Lynn Perry, Barnardo’s chief executive, said: “Across the UK, Barnardo’s is supporting children who are slipping into poverty as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.

“Families who once had to choose between heating or eating are now worried about providing warm beds for their children or losing their homes altogether.”

Barnardo’s is calling on the Government to extend free school meals to all primary school children in England. As a minimum first step, it wants to see provision extended to all children in families in receipt of Universal Credit.

The charity also wants to see social security strengthened including a review of Universal Credit to ensure it is linked permanently to inflation and that the reduced payment level for under 25s is removed; reintroducing the £20 Universal Credit uplift and reversing the two-child limit and reversing the benefit cap.

A Government spokesperson said they “recognise the pressures families are facing due to the rising cost of living” and have given “direct, targeted support to millions of vulnerable households”.

“Our Household Support Fund continues to help families with essential costs and we remain committed to helping families at risk of homelessness – over half a million households have been prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation since 2018,” said the spokesperson.

“Since 2010, the number of children receiving a free meal at school has increased by more than two million thanks to universal infant free school meals and protections for parents moving to Universal Credit.

“Our further investment in the National School Breakfast Programme also extends it for another year, backed by up to £30m.”

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