Social workers report children living in dangerous conditions

Social Workers Union (SWU), Association of Education Psychologists (AEP), End Fuel Poverty Coalition, Warm This Winter

These findings come from the results of the 2024 survey that the Social Workers Union (SWU) conducted in conjunction with The Independent.

Two-thirds (61%) of children’s social workers have witnessed young people living in conditions with excessive levels of mould according to new research among members of SWU. [1]

At a wider level, the study found that almost three quarters of adult, child and mental health social workers (71%) saw the people they support stopped turning on their heating to save money over the winter.

This had led to 55% saying that many of the people social workers support are living in cold damp homes. Scottish social workers reported the highest level of people living in Dickensian conditions (69%) followed by social workers active in the North East (67%). [2]

A quarter (24%) claimed that the people they work with who have a disability or health condition can’t afford to run medical equipment while 15% reported seeing disabled people who they support unable to charge their mobility devices due to the high cost of energy.

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:

“While politicians try to kid themselves that the cost-of-living crisis is over, the reports from our members show just how dangerous this winter has been.

“All too often social workers are reporting seeing people living in substandard and dangerous housing. This happens in all parts of the country, but we know that people living in the private rented sector can be among the worst affected.

“Children living in cold, damp, mouldy homes is a national scandal and we need to see drastic action being taken to fix Britain’s broken energy system.”

Dr Cath Lowther, General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said:

“Children and young people living in the damp and the cold cannot thrive and develop. Living in such conditions is adversity, plain and simple. 

“Adverse Childhood Experiences are known to have long term negative impact on all aspects of people’s lives. This involves significant increased risk to physical health as well as further risks to mental health and achievement in school. Nobody can concentrate on schoolwork when all they can think about is trying to keep warm. And how confident will a child or young person feel about inviting their friends over to such a home? 

“If the government is serious about improving the lives of our children and young people, starting with safe, adequate housing needs to be a priority.”

Despite energy prices falling in April, millions of people are paying more for their energy bills now than they did at the height of the cost-of-living crisis.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, added:

“The price households pay for their energy is still 60% higher than in 2021 and levels of energy debt are soaring. Meanwhile the wider cost of living crisis means people simply can’t afford to keep the heating on when it’s needed most.

“What we need to see is a much faster roll out of programmes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and bring down the cost of energy. The reality is though that there will also need to be a structured programme of financial support announced well in advance to help people though next winter.”

Warm This Winter campaign spokesperson Fiona Waters said:

“This is a heart-rendering and all too familiar story where the most vulnerable are at risk because of our broken energy system and we need urgent change before even more children, the elderly and others become ill or worse.

“As a rich country at the very least we should be giving our people warm, dry, healthy homes to live in. That’s why we need long term solutions such as expanding homegrown renewable energy and a mass programme of insulation to bring down bills once and for all so these appalling living conditions are banished to the past where they belong.”

Figures previously published from the SWU survey found that in the last 18 months two-fifths (40%) of social workers have raised concerns about cases where they don’t believe appropriate action was taken. 

Read more about the survey’s findings: SWU and Independent survey highlights how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting social workers and the people they support


[1] The Social Workers Union invited members to respond to a survey between 25 January to 12 February 2024. 716 social workers responded.

[2] Nations & regions breakdown of key questions:

A breakdown of the responses to the 2024 SWU and Independent survey questions "The people I support have stopped turning on their heating to save money" and "Many of the people I support are living in cold damp houses".