Rabbit-hutch Britain: Growing health concerns as UK sets record for smallest properties in Europe

Millions living in overcrowded housing because of failure to build new homes

Britain is in the grip of an invisible housing squeeze with millions of people living in homes that are too small for them, according to new research which reveals that more than half of all dwellings are failing to meet minimum modern standards on size.

The poorest households are being hit hardest, with estimates suggesting that four-fifths of those affected by the Coalition’s “bedroom tax” are already forced to contend with a shortage of space, the Cambridge University study found.

The findings will put pressure on the Government, which announced it was to develop a national space standard – although this will only be enforced where it does not impinge on development. Critics argue that the UK already has the smallest properties in Europe following the end of national guidelines in 1980. But soaring land and property prices and a shortage of new homes are fuelling overcrowding, which causes health problems including depression, insomnia and asthma.

The authors of the study – based on an analysis of 16,000 homes in England – said the findings showed the bedroom tax was “fundamentally flawed”. The study argues that, when analysed by floor space instead of the number of rooms, 55 per cent of all homes fail to meet enhanced minimum guidelines laid down by the London Housing Design Guide. This was introduced by the London Authority in 2011 to improve the quality of accommodation in the capital, but has come to be seen as the industry-wide standard.

When analysed by number of current occupants, one home in five is too small. And the problem of too many undersized properties would be much more serious if it were not for low occupation rates caused by increased numbers of single-person households.

Worst affected were flats and terraced houses with children, whilst the study suggested that 79 per cent of homes were either near or below acceptable size.

The average floor space for a dwelling in the UK as a whole is currently 85 sq metres, whilst new-builds average only 76 sq metres – putting Britain at the bottom of a league table of 15 countries including Ireland, Portugal and Italy.

The paper, in the journal Building Research & Information, said that the extent of the problem was not fully understood. Up to a third of householders were said to be unhappy with where they lived. “The majority of homes in the UK are not fully occupied and yet residents are dissatisfied with the amount of space, with lack of storage space, insufficient space for furniture and lack of space in which to socialise often cited as particular problems,” said the authors Malcolm Morgan and Heather Cruickshank.

Mr Morgan, who led the research, said many people found themselves in what was described as a three-bedroom property but which only had the floor space of a two-bedroom place under the London standards. Box rooms categorised as bedrooms were only of use as storage spaces or studies.

The bedroom tax looks at the number of bedrooms, and not at the total available space per person. But the study found that “only 19 per cent of households losing housing benefit (under the bedroom tax) could be considered to have more space than they needed.”

Read more: The tiny house movement: Could you live in a miniature home?
'Change Help to Buy to help London buyers'
Tiny studio flat ad got 'abusive' calls
Bedroom, kitchen and shower in one room for £563 a month
UK house prices soar 9.9% in a year
First-time buyer mortgages up by a third  

The president of the Royal Institute of British Architects Stephen Hodder said the average new one-bedroom property measuring just 46 sq metres was the same size as a London Underground carriage. “This is depriving households of the space they need to live comfortably and cohesively,” he said.

“Space for children to do their homework, private areas for rest or relaxation and even space to store food and the vacuum are all major concerns in British homes. With a failing housing market, we need to empower our local authorities to borrow money and build quality homes,” he added.

But the Home Builders Federation said market forces, most particularly the price of land, dictated the cost and size of new homes. Steve Turner, a spokesman, said: “House builders have to provide a choice. There are plenty of large homes available on the market and there are smaller ones to cater for people on a smaller budget. If you say all homes have to be a certain size it will exclude a lot of people.”

Rachel Fisher, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, said: “This is evidence that the bedroom tax is not working. It is not making better use of social housing stock because the imbalance between the distribution of households and homes means that in many parts of the country perfectly usable homes are lying empty.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “The fact is that before our reforms taxpayers were funding 820,000 spare bedrooms in working age households in the social rented sector. The removal of the spare-room subsidy is a fair reform so the taxpayer no longer pays for people’s spare bedrooms, while over 300,000 people continue to live in overcrowded homes and 1.7 million sit on council waiting lists.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness