During the recent debate in parliament on the private rental sector Jeremy Corbyn suggested that MPs should ‘ask primary teachers how their pupils suffer from unregulated renting.’ He is absolutely right.
Moving house for a child is frequently disturbing. When we moved from our 2 bedroomed council house to a 3 bedroomer after my sister was born, I vividly recall wishing all manner of bad things on the people we were swapping with. Their selfish decision to rob me of my lovely house, lovely garden and lovely bedroom was nothing less than evil. I may have been literally only moving up the road but still this move shook my sense of security and necessitated a change which I didn’t ask for or want. For a 6 year old that sucks.
The moving in and of itself was horrible but didn’t disrupt my education particularly as I could stay in the same school but just have a slightly longer walk in the mornings. Admittedly I never made the same kind of ‘at home’ friendships (shakes fist at Mum and Dad) but at school all remained the same. Worth noting that I was 6 when it happened and I didn’t move again until I was 14. Two moves before the age of 18 is not bad going at all, really.
For many in 2014 though, moves from one rented property to another can be distressingly frequent. Research by Shelter indicates that unmanageable rent rises and revenge evictions have helped to create a situation where a child whose family rent privately are 10x more likely to have moved within the last year than one whose parents own their own home. The chances are that those children, unlike me, will not have the good fortune to stay in the same school.
Children like Amy, a self-conscious 8 year old with a boisterous personality who took years to settle into her last school and now finds herself on the move again. This time older, she notes that her boisterous, adventurous, football-loving nature and shorter hair might make her stand out as being different. Better then create a new personality that will be less noticeable lest she get singled out. Better lose the comfortable trousers and practical short hair and morph into what she feels to be more ‘acceptable’.
Children like Isabelle, a hard-working, school-loving 6 year old who has built several strong friendships with children she’s been around since pre-school. She is confident enough and will cope but she is desperately sad because she really loves those friends. Every night she cries into her pillow because she misses them so desperately. She doesn’t cry in front of her mum though because she doesn’t want to make her feel bad.
And children like Ewan who at the age of 11 had made a conscious choice as to which secondary school he wanted to go to. He had to undertake special selection tests and was overjoyed to be offered a place. When he had to move again though, it was too late to select a school and so he was just given a place in the closest one with a space. No element of selection for him nor any friends to move into that next stage with.
Indeed no real element of selection for any of these three. They move ‘in-year’ so they go to schools where there are spaces. That can mean one of two things: a) they are lucky because there just happens to be a place at a local school (rare if an oversubscribed school and if a school is deemed ‘good’, it will be oversubscribed and have a long list of names for those who hold a ‘continued interest’ in the school); or b) they get into a school which tends to have places available because it is undersubscribed (and because of that it frequently has new children moving into the area who come and go).
Amy goes to an option b) and finds she is the third new girl in her class in 3 weeks. She joins a class who are fed up of new children and the responsibilities they bring. The teacher tries her best to smooth the transition but it is not easy when there is a roll-on; roll-off element to the class. At lunchtime Amy has sandwiches but the other girls have dinners. She waits for them to finish but worries they won’t want to play with her like yesterday. She doesn’t know what to do to make them like her. Amy has quite bad dreams about getting lost and losing her mum and dad. She stops asking and answering questions in class.
Ewan has a difficult time. He is a deep and complicated character who looks tough but is actually deeply sensitive. To hide any perceived ‘weakness’ he takes to pretending to be something he isn’t which is a huge stress. His teacher finds him difficult and resistant not knowing his history. She misinterprets his behaviour as disruptive when it is only defensive. A bright and capable boy, his grades drop significantly. He feels sad a lot but doesn’t really know why. He’s worried they will have to move again. He knows that landlords change their minds.
The effect on children of frequent moving has been carefully documented. The descriptions above could relate to children who have moved once but consider the devastating potential effects on mental health, grades, education in general if this pattern is repeated regularly. No, really stop and consider that. These children, quite simply, do not stand a chance.
When I recently voiced support for longer tenancies in private renting, I was shouted down. It was put to me that this was not a significant issue for renters and that is was unfair to force long tenancies on everyone when other factors such as revenge evictions and rent rises were more important. My response is that all 3 are important actually and in fact, they feed into one another. At the heart though are the young lives damaged through no fault other than being the offspring of people who need, for one reason or another, to rent privately. Where on Earth is the justice in that?