Nearly a million children in the UK are living without a bed and are having to share with family members or sleep on the floor, as years of austerity cuts and the cost of living crisis dramatically increase bed poverty figures.
A recent report from child organisation Barnardo’s found an estimated 894,000 children, or 11 per cent, are without a proper bed, impacting their education and mental wellbeing.
Founded in 2017, Zarach was created after deputy headteacher Bex Wilson noticed an 11-year-old boy was struggling to pay attention in class. It later emerged that he and his two siblings shared a bed bug infested sofa cushion to sleep on, with little help or services available to provide him with a bed.
Since then, the charity has delivered 7,019 beds to children in need and have partnered with over 500 primary and secondary schools who provide them with family referrals.
Over the last 12 months, the charity has witnessed a sharp rise in demand as they expand across Bradford, Huddersfield and Liverpool, delivering almost 3,500 beds with the help of 100 volunteers.
Speaking to The Independent, CEO Andy Peers said: “Our mission is to end child bed poverty in England but there’s a reason we want to end child bed poverty; it’s to give children the opportunity to engage at school. Everybody recognises that education is a really clear way to break that future cycle of poverty.”
In polling collected by YouGov, 20 per cent of children without a bed felt tired at school and 13 per cent struggled during physical activities, while one in 12 parents said their children were “tired all the time” due to not having their own bed to sleep in.
The Barnardo’s research this autumn surveyed 1,049 parents and 1,013 children aged between eight and 17.
It also found that over 187,000 families had not been able to change their children’s bedding in the last 12 months due to cost of washing and drying, while 336,000 families have been unable to afford to replace or repair broken beds.
As well as delivering beds, Zarach also supports families by providing pyjamas, duvets, pillows and toiletries and chocolate treats. This comes as recent statistics show that 29 per cent, or more than one in four children live in relative poverty, with an increase of 350,000 occurring between 2021 and 2022.
In order to identify families struggling behind closed doors with a lack of available bedding, the charity has formed close relationships with schools and teachers across the north-west of England.
Once receiving a referral from a school, family liaison workers at Zarach will conduct a phone call with the parents before organising a visit to take measurements for a bed to be delivered to the property.
“We look at areas where unfortunately child poverty levels are above 30 per cent,” Mr Peers said. “We think we can have a good impact if we can work in areas with a sizable population.
“We look at child poverty levels and then child population levels and because of the work other amazing organisations have done, we can then make an estimation on how many children we think might be in bed poverty.”
The largest family the charity has supported had 10 children, while they have learned to adapt to overcrowding in social housing by using bunk beds and split bases.
Once a family has received their bed, Zarach maintains contact with the schools to receive progress reports, with 76 per cent of children performing better as a result of intervention.
“The first part is getting frontline professionals to understand what the signs of bed poverty are,” Mr Peers said. “If you’ve got a child who is struggling to engage or is acting slightly out of control, before you think about whether it’s ADHD, take some time to ask how they slept last night. Start there because a wider conversation will open up.”
Due to the support of local sponsors, each of Zarach’s bed bundles costs £180, which also includes a £30 supermarket voucher for a family Christmas meal.
“That vision for the next three years is doing 1,000 a week across areas of greatest need but also wanting to provide a wrap around support. A bed alone doesn’t end bed poverty,” Mr Peers said.
“We’re very clear, we’re on a mission to end this. We’re a charity that doesn’t want to be here in years to come.”
Geordie Greig, Editor-in-Chief of The Independent, said: “The Independent is proud to support Zarach’s campaign. It’s shocking that so many children do not have a bed to call their own, and it’s important to come together to help put that right."
Lynn Perry MBE, Barnardo’s Chief Executive said: “Bed poverty is just one aspect of child poverty, yet it starkly illustrates the challenges faced by families not having enough money to afford the essentials needed to raise happy and healthy children.
“Families in crisis are having to prioritise essentials such as food, heating and electricity over things like replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a rotten or broken bed. Children are sharing beds and sleeping on the floor, all of which is affecting their development, attendance at school and their mental health.
“We are pleased The Independent is highlighting this issue and helping to address it in the run up to Christmas, sadly a difficult time for many.”
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