A young girl cuddles a doll sitting on a dirty mattress on a floor

No crib for a bed: the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on bed poverty

Type Policy and research document

Published on
29 September 2023

Children need a good night’s sleep in order to thrive, yet our latest research shows that families in crisis are having to prioritise essentials such as food, heating and electricity over things like replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a broken bed.

One year ago, in October 2022, we published our first report on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people. In April 2023 we published a further report, looking at how the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating child poverty across our services.

We remain highly concerned about the impact of rising costs on children, young people and families. This report’s findings on bed poverty are part of a far deeper problem of entrenched child poverty in the UK. We are calling on the UK Government to take urgent action to address these deep-rooted issues.

What is bed poverty?

Most of the families we support have been affected by the cost-of-living crisis. They have very little disposable income and are struggling to fund essential items such as gas and electric or food. Furniture is not a priority to purchase. 

Our research found that bed poverty can take different forms, including:

  • broken beds and damaged bedding: families who could not afford to replace or repair unsuitable beds or bedding, for example bedding that had gone mouldy
  • sharing beds and rooms: a number of families in our research were sharing beds with their children as they could not afford separate bedding
  • sleeping on the floor: many Barnardo’s practitioners mentioned working with parents or children sleeping on the floor

Polling commissioned by Barnardo’s and conducted by YouGov found there are over 1 million families where parents have given up their own beds so their child had somewhere to sleep in the last 12 months. 

The impact of bed poverty

Every family will have different sleeping arrangements and this will be shaped by factors such as personal preference, culture and household composition. In this report we have focused on situations where families, children or young people do not have the sleeping arrangement they need because they have insufficient financial resources. 


of children have had to share a bed or sleep on the floor in the last 12 months, an estimated 894,000 children in the UK.

We asked this group how they felt about sharing a bed with someone else, even when they would rather not:

  • 20% said they felt tired the next day during lessons at school, an estimated 176,000 children in the UK
  • 13% felt tired the next day during physical activities like sports, an estimated 119,000 children in the UK
  • 11% felt embarrassed, an estimated 117,000 children in the UK
  • 8% felt anxious, an estimated 73,000 children in the UK
  • 10% felt unhappy, an estimated 92000 children in the UK
  • 14% felt moody, an estimated 123,000 children in the UK

Our recommendations for the UK government

Urgent action is needed to address entrenched child poverty in the UK. We recommend that the UK Government takes steps to:

  • end the ’sibling penalty’: end the two-child limit, a policy which restricts support provided through Tax Credits and Universal Credit for families which have more than two children. It is currently the single biggest policy driver of child poverty
  • implement an Essentials Guarantee: ensure that the amount of Universal Credit families receive is always enough to afford essential items so they can better accommodate unexpected costs such as replacing a broken bed or bedding
  • fix the Fund: urgently extend funding for the Household Support Fund in the Autumn Statement 2023. The Household Support Fund is money given by the Government to local councils to support households in financial crisis but the fund ends in March 2024

What we're doing to help families in poverty

Helping families, children and young people in poverty has been at the heart of Barnardo’s work for over 150 years. Our frontline colleagues are seeing greater need than ever before in our 800 services across the UK. 

To address the crisis Barnardo’s has been providing support to families in our services who are struggling to afford essential items. Helping families with beds and bedding has been a key part of the help provided.

    In our service we’ve [secured] beds, mattresses, bedding and cots. This has ranged from families whose children are sleeping on broken beds, sharing beds with siblings and other family members or sleeping on the floor or sofas. We’ve also been able to provide beds for parents or carers who have nowhere to sleep within the home.

    Barnardo’s practitioner

    Between October 2022 and September 2023, our crisis support has helped more than 13,000 children and 7,200 families. This has included helping:

    • 442 families with beds, reaching 1016 children
    • 133 families with mattresses, reaching 307 children
    • 52 families with duvets, reaching 110 children
    • 18 families with sheets, reaching 35 children
    • 28 families with blankets, reaching 66 children

    No child should grow up in poverty

    Growing up in poverty means children are going to school hungry, feeling anxious about the stress at home, and are more at risk of harms like exploitation. Without the right support, poverty will harm them long into their future, as they face worse life chances, poorer health and fewer opportunities. 

    Children deserve more than empty stomachs, sleepless nights, and cold homes.

    Read more research into the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children and young people

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