Family of five cram into single bedroom as housing crisis claims another victim

Toni Bell with her six-month-old triplets and toddler in their single room. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Toni Bell with her six-month-old triplets and toddler in their single room. Picture: Ian Georgeson

It’s 5.30am and an exhausted Toni Bell wakes up next to her three-year-old daughter to feed her six-month-old triplets, all of them sleeping on the floor.

Long days and sleepless nights are just two things you expect when you’re a mother. But for the 24-year-old, every day is a struggle.

Toni spends all day every day tending to her four children’s needs while crammed in to her mother’s small spare room – a situation she is desperate to change.

The young mum feels imprisoned in this two-bedroom Granton flat. She rarely gets a chance to go outdoors.

It is of little surprise considering she lives on a third floor, with no lift. It means even popping to the shop for a pint of milk can feel like a marathon.

Toni also has Léri-Weill dyschondrosteosis – a disorder of bone growth – to contend with. This means she has shortened leg bones while she also has an abnormality of the wrist and forearm bones called Madelung deformity, which causes pain and limits wrist movement.

Toni said: “I feel sick about the whole situation. There’s is no room and it’s not the environment you want to be bringing your children up in.

“A three-year-old shouldn’t be sharing a bed with her mum and five people shouldn’t be staying in one room. My triplets are sleeping in Moses baskets on the floor and are quickly outgrowing them. There’s no room for a cot – you can’t even see the floor in the room.

“It’s getting to the time when they all will need the bed and I’ll be on the floor.

“I hate being on benefits, but I have had no choice. Some days are good, others are bad. We live in a third floor flat and I have to climb six flights of stairs to get there with four children.

“I have to take the buggy to the bottom of the stairs and then bring the children down one by one. Sometimes with my disorder I struggle even to lift them. It just isn’t safe at all. If there was a fire in the flat or the block it would be a real struggle to get us all out of the flat, which is frightening.”

Toni is part of the ever-­increasing demand for social housing in the Capital, with almost 170 applications bidding for every home available in Edinburgh. It is estimated the city’s population will grow by almost 30 per cent in the next 20 years meaning rehoming families such as Toni’s will prove a more difficult task.

She said: “I need a three bedroom house I can share with my children. I need to give them the home and stability they deserve.

“I get up at 5.30am to feed the triplets and when my alarm goes off I just have to hope my toddler goes back to sleep.

“In that room I feed them, change them and we all sleep in there.

“When my mum goes to work I have full access to the flat but when she returns I feel like we have to go into the bedroom and give her some space. Meal times are just mad. I have to sort out four different meals. Feeding the triplets can take around an hour-and-a-half.

“I feed the triplets around every four hours including at 7pm while trying to get my toddler to sleep. It is very difficult as she knows I’m awake next to her.

“I end up going to sleep not long after the kids because I’m just physically drained from the day. I don’t get any time to myself really because I have to do everything.”

Toni was living in temporary accommodation until her landlord sold the house where she was staying, resulting in her going to her mum’s.

Toni’s relationship with her mum is at breaking point and she now feels the council needs to act so she can properly provide for her children.

She said: “Before I moved in my relationship with my mum was really good. Now it is really strained. I feel like I am letting myself and my triplets down on babyhood. I feel like they haven’t had the same as my toddler did when she was a baby. We have no highchair, bouncy chair or cots for them because I simply don’t have the room.

“All the toys are in the room too, so I’ve woken up before to see my toddler playing with her toys because they’re easily accessible.

“She is due to start nursery and I need to secure her a place by December. However, I have no permanent address and without that I can’t apply for a place. She doesn’t deserve to not have an education and should be in a nursery. I need a home for my kids.”

Toni was only meant to temporarily move into her mum’s council flat in Granton while she was pregnant with the triplets, who were born six weeks premature and spent their first weeks in intensive care. Now one year on, the five of them are packed in a small bedroom which consists of a bed, Moses baskets, a folded-up buggy and a doll’s house.

She said: “I have been told I can go into a B&B and I would be in there for weeks up to months before moving to temporary accommodation, when I could be told to leave at any point.

“I don’t want my children in a B&B. I need cooking facilities and to be able to make bottles for my babies. I’m not letting my kids go without.”

Audit Scotland estimates it costs local authorities £27 million a year extra providing people with temporary B&B accommodation rather than a permanent home.

A hairdresser by trade, Toni’s last job was as an administrator for the Scottish Mediation Network before having to give it up during the pregnancy with her first child.

She said: “This was all supposed to be temporary but now it’s going on for too long. I can’t stay here forever. I need a house. I don’t think anyone else is in the same position as me.

“When I was pregnant I was told I would be housed before the kids were in a cot. This has been a false promise and it’s not acceptable.

“The father of my children is brilliant and he comes round to see them three or four times a week. However, he lives in a one-bedroom flat so he doesn’t have the accommodation either.

“I need permanent accommodation so I have some stability for my children. They deserve so much better.”

Councillor Gavin Barrie, convener of the housing and economy committee, said: “We have a range of housing advice services to help people who are looking for a home or are looking to move. However, three-bedroom properties are much sought after and become available less frequently.

“The challenge of securing ­affordable homes in Scotland is particularly acute in the Capital. Almost 170 households bid for every council and housing association home available to let in Edinburgh.

“With the city’s population forecast to grow by almost 30 per cent over the next 20 years, keeping up with demand will become increasingly difficult.

“To address these concerns, the council is working with our partners and already delivering on what is one of the most ambitious housing plans in the UK following the capital coalition’s pledge to build 20,000 homes in the next ten years.

“Work is under way to achieve these ambitious commitments, with over 2,000 affordable homes under construction on 33 sites in the city.”