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"For us to be normal we kinda have to deal with the feeling of having no space"

Crowded houses or Overcrowding is a large problem affecting hundreds of thousands of people. It directly causes various problems and catalyses others.

The Housing Act 1985 (Appendix 1) defines overcrowding by setting both room and space standards and furthermore it lists conditions that would make a property unfit for human habitation. Among these, there is dampness, natural lighting ventilation, water supply and sanitary drainage, etc.. These standards are generally considered fairly loose, making tackling the problem harder, partly so by ex­ cluding children from the count of habitants. According to a recent report by Planning and Housing Committee, the number of households living in overcrowded accommodation have steadily increased in the last years. In London alone, there are over 220,000 households reported as overcrowded. Across all sectors, private and public the increase has reached 18%. In the social rented sector, which has been hit the hardest, 43 per cent of homes are overcrowded. Some of the factors for the deteriorating situation are changes on housing benefits sys­ tem, rising in rents, increasing mortgages repossession as well as a lack of affordable homes. The background where most of overcrowding conditions seem to be most prevalent is social housing. There appears to be strong link between overcrowding and poverty. Overcrowded homes seem to be more predominant in poorer areas with East London, Tower Hamlet council being the most affected.

The negative effects that overcrowded housing has on families are numerous. For instance, hygiene is compromised by utilising given space for different and incompatible purposes. Recent findings from the Housing Researchers Summary 2010 demonstrate that overcrowded conditions may lead to poorer health, where cases of meningitis, H. Pylori infection and respiratory conditions in children as well as TB have been found predominantly in these groups. Mental health is being affected by stress, depression, etc. living in a home where there is not space for oneself and the freedom to be oneself. Affected children tend to show degraded educational performance, lower educational attainment as they do not have space to do their homework or are sleep deprived. Thus, by making overcrowding, an urgent issue to tackle , it will in the long run resolve other social problems. Three families, one from Chichester and two from London have collaborated in this project. They have opened their homes to me and shown their reality of living in an overcrowding conditions. The images documents the families daily lives in crammed homes where one lacks privacy, does not have space for doing homework, normal conducts, and ultimately the whole household has to com­ promise in order to “live”. The text accompanying the images are from interviews conducted with the families.

Overcrowding is steadily increasing in magnitude due to the economic crisis and to subsequent measures taken by the government such as benefits cuts and welfare reforms combined with the ncreasing cost of living and rising unemployment. University College London's Institute of Health Equity warned that government welfare reforms "will make it harder for households ... to cover housing costs. Adequate housing may be more difficult to afford during an economic crisis and households may be forced to live in environments that may constitute a risk to health, such as home­ less situations, overcrowded housing, and housing in a poor physical condition". Cinzia D'Ambrosi

Alison lives with her husband, Ryan and their four children in a small two bedroom flat in Chichester, UK. They live in an overcrowded conditions and to make matters worse their flat is also damp and suffering from caving. Alison and Ryan have fought for a bigger home for a quite a while, but they banged on deaf walls. They resorted to their local councillor, who raised the alarm around their situation to the local Council which finally reviewed the family's case and accepted them into band B ( higher priority on the housing lists). However, they have not heard from the Council since. As their situation is progressively getting worse with Ryan who is suffering from Asperger's Syndrome being more stressed, they resorted to Shelter to help them campaign for a decent home and this is how I met them. The quotations are Alison's as I took a recording around how she is feeling by living in a crammed conditions.

"I have four children, they are always stuck in their bedroom, which doesn't have much space or in the living room to play. It always feels like tripping over their toys, they are always under your feet"

"The children don't get time for themselves. They do not have space to go to as they are always with a brother or sister."

"If they are naughty there is nowhere to put them. Sometimes I put them out in the communal doorway, where all the other neighbours can hear them shout, cry, screaming, banging on the door to come in."

"My husband has Asperger Syndrome, which at the moment has become more obvious. He does not have his head space and even then there is the noise of the four children running around, the washing machine, the

television. Sometimes I kinda do everything I can not to come home, usually I meet with friends, I am going around in Tesco, around town. I don't like to be here anymore. I don't like to be in anymore. I am part of the

Residents Committee to have an evening out, part of the Neighbour watch so it is another evening I can get out. I just hate to be in. I don't have my pretty things out anymore, no space to put my books, everything is packed

away ready to move, yet we don't know when we are moving. So I keep telling myself, we will be moving soon, but we are still here. My husband is not sure, he thinks we are going to be left here and it does feel like that. "

"At bedtime the children are all in the same bedroom. My four year old girl and one year old baby are having to share a bed, because there is not enough space to fit the cot bed in the bedroom. My eight

year old boy has to go to bed at the same time. It is not nice for them. They don't have a nice proper bedtime."

"For me, the main price is the head space. You are tripping over their toys, threading on the children all the time, there is no space to put anything . It feels so small in here, sometimes there is no space to

do anything."

"Dinner time: we cannot sit around a table together and have a nice meal and talk about what we have been up to at school, at work, at home."

"You know that you are going to move one day, so we have to prepare for that as wells. I packed my ornaments a while ago, clothes are packed away in boxes and that' s another box in the cupboard or all are in the bedroom."

"Whenever you do go to the Council to explain your situation, it doesn't feel like they are even listening, they just don't care. When you are telling the truth, to be made to feel you are lieing, it isn't very nice. They make you feel like you are just saying it to try to get higher in the waiting list, in a higher band, you are not just saying it, they should come and live it. They just don't care." Alison Stratton-Baldwin

Viviene lives in London with her younger son in a flat so small that technically is a studio flat. Her older son, who was also living with her, left the home because he was finding it very difficult to live in their crammed conditions. Viviene spends a lot of her time trying to make 'space' in her home, working out strategies for space. Her son has no place to play but in a corner in the living room which Viviene also uses it for studying. I met Viviene a few times and in one of these occasions I took a recording around how she is feeling by living in an overcrowding conditions.

"Living in an overcrowding conditions is stressful. There is not enough room for my little one to play, there is not enough storage so you have lots of clutter."

"For me, sometimes I found it embarrassing to invite people in. You don't want people to think you are untidy, or you are not clean, mainly it is because there are things that you need, but you don't have enough room or a place to put them, so you can't really throw them out because you need the things but there is no place to store them."

"To get to the clothes stored under the bed you might have to practically empty the chest of drawers, move it to get to the things under the bed, so I am losing even the storage, because

at the moment you cannot get to them, so I take the suitcase out because for me in order to get it out when I need it, I would have to empty the chest of drawers to get it out, so it is not

a very nice experience living in an overcrowded situation and it is not very good for my child because for one he needs his space, his things, his toys in one place , his desk to write. "

"Another thing is, my little one does not have this own room so my bedroom is very crammed. My child has accidents going inside there 'cause there is not enough space to walk. Sometimes, when he goes in the room he bumps his head, he hurts his feet, and I cannot do much about it because there is only one bedroom and we have his bed and my bed in there and we have no storage for clothes." "My little one gets invited to his friends and he often asks 'can this one come over' and I say: 'no darling', because we have not space for them to play, no room and I really feel bad that he can't have that because we don't have the room for it and he doesn't understand because he is young, and he sees himself going to his friends'place and he is wondering why can't his friends come to his

place, but as an adult I got to explain to him that we have no play area and we don't want them to come and have accidents bumping into things because everything is there in the passageway so you

are responsible for someone else child coming into your home. If it is not safe you put them at risk, so that's another problem of overcroding. It has safety implications and my 5 years old is not safe.

"You found that you cannot invite people around because there is not enough room for a dining table so that people could have dinner or anything. There is not enough room for you

to put things away so that when people come in don't see all the rubbish that you have. Everything is out in a corner."

"I try to make the place safe but he is not an adult that he walks in a straight line. You cannot bring someone else child in this environment so it is not a happy way to live and it is not a nice way to live but there is not much I can do. This is my situation. I just have to cope as much as I can." Viviene Thomas

Linda lives with her daughter and her mother in a small flat in London. She is finding it very hard to live in a small home and having no privacy within it. Sleeping arrangements are difficult, with her mum sleeping on a sofa and her daughter and herself sharing a bed. They feel that their situation won't change until she will find work which has been difficult to find. I took a recording around how she is feeling in living in a overcrowding conditions.

"Living in a overcrowded conditions is a total nightmare. You cannot put your life in perspective. The more you try, you go still crazy literally."

"The kitchen is really small, it is small enough for a mouse, because there is a small fridge you can't cook and store anything so it is just an inconvenience."

"Sometimes you want to watch tv or wanna do computer but it is just one living room and the bedroom is too small and you can't have a tv or computer there."

"You don't have your space because I live with my mum, but this is driving me bunkers every day. Every time I turn around she is there. Not that I don't want to see her or interact with

her, but sometimes I need my space. The home is too small and we enter a lot of fights because of that."

"You cannot put anything anywhere or even if you tidy, it just gets back the same way and it is like a living nightmare, a catch 22. There is nothing more than you can do and it is really

frustrating because if you throw your things out, what are we going to do if we don't have any stuff there?"

"You just don't know what to do and the Council or anyone else is doing nothing about it. It takes ages so I don't know what else to do but it is driving me crazy. We just have to live with it and bear it." Linda Ramnarine

Appendix 1

No Space to Live  

Thousands people are living in overcrowding conditions in the UK: a problem that is affecting the quality of life for families and children....