Housing shortage

Kayleigh’s story: cramped and desperate victim of homes crisis

This is the story of Kayleigh – featured in a Labour advertisement in the Hastings Observer in November 2019 – and told here in full for the first time.

Home for Kayleigh, 33, and her three children – Rosie, 10; Alana, 2; and six-month-old Trent – is a privately-rented two-bedroom ground-floor flat in St Leonards. You enter through the kitchen and into a small hall, with just enough room for a small dining table. Leading off are the bedrooms, bathroom and living room.

The two children are expected to share one bedroom, a tiny box-room with just about space for bunk beds. But Rosie has sleep apnoea, making it difficult for her two-year-old sister. So Kayleigh has to share her bedroom with her toddler and baby. 

The solution, officials have told her, is for Kayleigh to sleep on the sofa in the front room, giving up her bedroom to her youngest children.

The real solution for Kayleigh is a flat with one more bedroom. But given the lack of social housing in Hastings & St Leonards, this is proving almost impossible. 

‘It’s a struggle, it really is,
most months
I’ve taken out loans
to make ends meet’

The cramped flat poses multiple problems. “It’s awkward, I have no space. I’m having to get rid of furniture, children’s toys.”

Kayleigh is not as worse off as some, so she falls through the gap: lacking only one bedroom. Having just enough money to cover her food needs, so she can’t take advantage of the foodbank.

“I’m on universal credit, the low universal credit. It’s a struggle every month, it really is. I’ve had to take out budgeting loans to make ends meet most months. The amount you have to pay out is quite a lot. I’ve recently had to take out a budgeting loan to be able to afford presents for my children for Christmas.”

She gets child benefit and also tax credits for Rosie and Alana of £510 a month, which is a welcome boost. But there is nothing under government rules for her son – a third child is excluded from tax credit: often described as Tory Britain’s equivalent of China’s former two-child policy.

Kayleigh’s rent of £524.44 a month is also paid as the final part of her benefits. Without it, and facing constant debt, it would be hard to see how she could feed her family. Her partner chips in when he’s there, but has been forced to move away for work.

“Some months I have to dip into my rent money to buy my children clothes, and day-to-day stuff,” she said.

“To do a good shop I’m probably looking at spending £40 or £50 a week. I get Healthy Start vouchers for nappies, baby wipes and baby milk but they don’t cover the whole month.” 

It took her landlord
7 years to agree to
repair a bathroom leak

For Kayleigh, every week, every month, is a balancing act. Meeting basic needs and trying not to get deeper into debt.

Then there are the other sudden expenses you have with children. The school organised a trip way; all Rosie’s friends were going. Kayleigh’s mum paid for it. That was £100. On top of that, the things Rosie needed to take with her cost a further £100 – money Kayleigh could ill-afford, but nevertheless had to find.

The last 10 years has been a struggle – not just with money. It took 7 years for Kayleigh’s landlord to agree to repair a bathroom leak, which resulted in tiles falling off the wall, nearly hitting her older daughter in the eye.

The flat has mould – thick black mould under the bunk bed and around the window – which given the proximity of bathroom and kitchen to the other rooms, is hardly surprising. But Kayleigh knows that if she complains, her landlord can evict her, giving no reason, under the notorious Section 22. And she could find herself on the streets and then in temporary accommodation.

Kayleigh was born and grew up in Hastings. Back then her parents had a three-bedroom terraced council house for Kayleigh and two siblings (a third sister had moved out when Kayleigh’s brother was born).

“I shared with one of my sisters and my brother had his own room. The bedrooms were all upstairs. It was a proper family home.” 

Kayleigh grew up in a
proper family home – since
sold off under ‘right to buy

When Margaret Thatcher gave council tenants the right to buy their homes, Kayleigh’s parents jumped at it. Back then, a lot of people did, tempted by the lure of home ownership.

Years later, the couple split up and sold the house. Once it would have offered Kayleigh and her young family the chance to grow up in a “proper family home”. But now it’s gone, just like the hundreds of thousands of others. And under government rules, councils are forbidden from directly building any more; instead there are ad hoc homes on offer from housing associations.

When officials come round, they suggest an impossible juggling act, fitting the family into different combinations of living and bedroom space. “I think they are just making excuses not to help,” says Kayleigh,

She tries all she can to improve her situation. “When a three-bedroom property comes up [on the council waiting list] I am bidding and bidding, but when it comes to a decision I rank around 20, so I don’t get a chance of even viewing one.”

Not surprisingly, Kayleigh suffers from depression. Rosie, too, is feeling the effect of the cramped conditions she has suffered all her young life. She now has issues with school and is being tested for autism and dyslexia.

“Rosie’s constantly asking me ‘When are we going to move?’,” says Kayleigh. This has prompted her to plead with the authorities for her daughter’s sake to move them to somewhere bigger. But she adds: “I don’t think it’s right that my child should be branded with a disability to move up a [housing] band.”

She naturally bridles at any suggestion people might make that she should not have three children: “I didn’t have my son to claim on benefits or to get a bigger property. I wanted my son because I wanted my son. I feel my family is now complete.”

Kayleigh would love to get back to work: “I’ve worked all my life, since the day I was 16. Even when I had Rosie I went back to work when she was six months.”

‘I’d love to go back to
work – but childcare
is so expensive’

Paid-for child care is beyond Kayleigh’s means. Alana goes to nursery one and a half days a week. She is entitled to 15 hours funded childcare, but there is currently limited space in local nurseries. With baby Trent, help is offered, but nurseries require an upfront cost which Kayleigh cannot meet.

Kayleigh believes more should be done for people in her situation: “People should get the help they are needing. 

“If they want people to return back to work, then provide that childcare system for younger babies, or at least give them child funding when a child turns one, because any mother that works is entitled to a year’s maternity leave.”

Childcare and a decent-sized property would dramatically improve Kayleigh’s life and the lives of her children. In 21st century Britain, in the fifth richest country in the world, is this really too much to ask?

About The Author

Rick Dillon, Press Officer for Peter Chowney