Rising prices and pressure on incomes mean millions of people are unable to afford basic items for their homes
Although there are no official figures for the number of people who live in furniture poverty, research done prior to the pandemic, by charity Turn2us, suggests that at least 4.8 million people were living without at least one essential household appliance or item, such as a cooker or a fridge – and, that the problem is getting worse.
One person, who responded to an article in the Guardian, Leanne, has been waiting for four and a half years to be moved from a council flat that she and her family has outgrown, to a council house with enough rooms to house them all.
Although Leanne (whose name has been changed for privacy), who works part time as a dinner lady, is pleased to have finally been provided with a house, there’s a problem: “There are no curtains, no carpet, no nothing: I don’t know where to start”, she says.
Leanne continues, “Somewhere for them all to sleep is the main priority”. Her teenage twins currently sleep in a room they share, in a bunk bed. However, the bottom bunk is broken, leaving one of her sons sleeping on a mattress on the floor. She sleeps in the box room with her two-year old, who’s still in a cot.
What’s more, there’s still more furniture to buy, as well, and carpets.
Leanne’s chest of drawers is currently in the living room, with the TV on it and her twins share a wardrobe. But, in the new house, she’ll be able to have her clothes in her room and the twins will have a room each, meaning she’ll need more furniture too. “So, I’ll need to get a TV stand or brackets,” she says. “We’re over the moon that we’ve got a house. But on the other hand, we’re wondering how we’re going to furnish it when we can’t even afford a new bed for the flat.”
New figures from Turn2us’ survey, of 6,000 people in August last year, show that 8% of people were living without a washing machine – which is the equivalent of 4.5 million people nationwide. And, in addition to this, 7% were living with no freezer, and a similar number of people said they were living with no oven or fridge.
Lacking these basic household items can have all sorts of knock-on effects on people’s lives: their houses are uncomfortable and cold, they’re unable to prepare decent meals, and they must pay a premium to wash their clothes.
And, although secondhand items are available, they’re difficult to collect if, like Leanne, you have no car, and they often break quickly.
Historically, Local councils have often been a source of help through Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) schemes. However, the campaign group End Furniture Poverty has found that more than 13 million people in England live in areas with no scheme, at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is making finances increasingly stretched for those on low incomes.
However, in many areas these have either closed entirely, or applicants must prove they have tried every other possible avenue to secure funds. Including asking friends and family to borrow money.
Claire Donavan, Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns for End Furniture Poverty, says: “The value of benefits has gone down, wages have gone down and there are these rising costs. It was hard to begin with, and it’s becoming insurmountable now.”
She goes on to say: “With the increase to fuel bills and National Insurance contributions, along with rising inflation, the need for support is urgent.”
Thomas Cave, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Turn2us, says: “At a time where millions of people are facing a cost-of-living crisis, we know something like a broken washing machine, or refrigerator, can be the start of a spiral into debt and eventually extreme poverty … household appliances are not luxuries – they are essentials; and without the intervention of effective LWA schemes, more people will continue to fall through the cracks of the welfare safety net.”
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