Meningitis ‘Link’ to Poor Housing

Children who live in overcrowded housing are up to 10 times more likely to contract meningitis, a report from the housing charity Shelter reveals. It has reviewed research into the effects of poor housing on children. The report warns children in bad housing have up to a 25% higher risk of severe ill-health and disability during childhood and early adulthood.

A government spokesman said helping children out of bad housing was an ongoing priority. It has pledged to end child poverty by 2020, but Shelter warns policies have not backed up the promises.

The charity estimates there are now more than one million children living in bad housing; in temporary accommodation, overcrowded conditions or where the home is damp, cold or infested.

Living in damp and overcrowded surroundings puts children at a higher risk of viral or bacterial infections, including bacterial meningitis, its report revealed.

The risks of tuberculosis and respiratory problems, including wheezing and asthma, are also higher.

The report cites research showing one in three people who had lived in overcrowded housing at the age of seven suffered from a respiratory disease at the age of 33.

Shelter warns bad housing is also linked to a three to four times higher risk of mental health problems. The report calls for 20,000 more social homes to give homeless and badly housed children a better future.

Lisa Harker, the report author said: “The government has very strong policies regarding improving children’s life chances.
But housing doesn’t feature very heavily.”

Graeme Brown from Shelter added: “Children trapped in bad housing have the odds stacked against them.

“Without the security of a decent home, they lose out on vital schooling, endure mental and physical ill-health and fall into a cycle of social exclusion and poverty.”

Linda Glennie, head of research and medical information for the Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “This report supports previous evidence that overcrowding and social deprivation can be a factor in increased risk from meningitis.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Hundreds of thousands of children have been lifted out of bad housing, thanks to the major programme of refurbishment to council housing since 1997 and we are determined to go further.

“We need to address the desperate problems of overcrowding and we welcome Shelter’s support for our proposals to raise overcrowding standards and to build more family homes for the future.”