After a four-and-a-half-year wait, Leanne* and her three children recently discovered they could upgrade from the two-bedroom council flat they had outgrown to a house. It’s good news, but there is a problem, she says: “There are no curtains, no carpet, nothing at all: I don’t know where to start.”
Leanne, who works part-time as a waitress and claims Universal Credit, isn’t the only one struggling to afford basic household items.
There are no official figures on the number of people living in furniture poverty, but research carried out before the pandemic by the charity Turn2us suggested that 4.8 million were without at least one essential household appliance like stove or refrigerator, and the problem gets worse. .
“A place where they can all sleep is the main priority,” says Leanne. Her teenage twins share a bedroom and the bottom bunk is broken, leaving her son to sleep on a mattress. She sleeps in the storage room with her two-year-old child, who is still in a cot.
There is also other furniture to buy and rugs. The twins share a wardrobe and when they are in separate rooms they will need one each.
Leanne’s dresser is currently in the living room with the TV on it, but in the new house she will be able to have her clothes in her bedroom.
“So I’m going to have to get a TV stand or brackets,” she says. “We are delighted to have a house. But on the other hand, one wonders how one is going to furnish when one cannot even afford to buy a new bed for the apartment.
Unpublished figures from the latest Turn2us survey of 6,000 people in August last year show that 8% lived without a washing machine, equivalent to 4.5 million people nationwide. Meanwhile, 7% lived without a freezer, and similar numbers said they had no oven or refrigerator.
Not having these basic items has all sorts of ripple effects on people’s lives: homes are uncomfortable and cold, families are unable to prepare decent meals, and they have to pay a premium to do their laundry.
Although used items are available, they often break down quickly and are difficult to salvage if, like Leanne, you don’t have a car.
Local councils have generally been a source of help through local social assistance (LWA) schemes. These provide crisis grants to people in immediate need and are typically used for fuel, food and essential white goods and furniture.
However, campaign group End Furniture Poverty found that more than 13 million people in England live in no-scheme areas, at a time when the cost of living crisis is hitting those on low incomes.
He says that over the last 10 years the cost of furniture, furnishings and carpets has risen by 32% while appliances have risen by 17%, and Brexit is driving up many of these even further. price.
Claire Donovan, 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 difficult at first, and it becomes insurmountable now.
She adds: “With rising fuel bills and national insurance contributions, as well as rising inflation, the need for support is urgent.”
Freedom of Information requests made by the group revealed that as of July 2021, one in five local authorities in England did not offer an LWA scheme, up from one in seven the previous year.
The number of applications increased by 91% in 2020-2021 and the number of acceptances increased by 157%, but the average payment fell from £29 to £146. About a third of the funds were used for furniture and appliances.
The group found that one in four programs were only available as a last resort, with applicants having to first try all other options, including universal credit advances, credit unions and charities.
Several local authorities said people would need to have approached friends and family for help before applying.
The group called on the government to commit to spending £485m a year on funding for three years and to improve its guidance, giving programs a unique name and setting criteria for grants. “This will give local authorities time and certainty to expand existing projects or open new ones where these have closed,” Donovan said.
Thomas Cave, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Turn2us, says: “At a time when millions are facing a cost of living crisis, we know that something like a broken washing machine or fridge may be the start of a spiral. in debt and ultimately in extreme poverty.
He adds: “Appliances are not luxuries, they are essentials; and without the intervention of effective LWA programs, more people will continue to fall through the cracks of the social safety net.
Shaun Davies, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Resource Council, says councils are doing all they can to support residents who may be struggling financially. “We agree with this report that councils need adequate, long-term government investment in a more sustainable local welfare system, which they can use flexibly to plan for. advance and help households better manage the expected impact of these growing financial pressures,” he said. .
* Not his real name
At Bulky Bob’s, where sofas find second homes
Collette Williams is Group Director of FRC, a social enterprise that runs the End Furniture Poverty campaign and several other initiatives, including Bulky Bob’s Furniture World stores in Liverpool and Oldham.
The association won a municipal call for tenders for the collection of bulky household waste and reuses unwanted furniture. “Either they’re broken, or too old, or they’re not wanted,” Williams says. “We receive a lot of items daily and take them to sorting centers and go through them.”
Once in good order, they are put in the stores. Anyone can buy something, but the group has relationships with local agencies that can refer those who need help. “We provide them with a voucher and they can come in and choose whatever they want,” she says. “We don’t want people to think they can only choose what no one else wants. We want them to have the best experience possible…staff ask what they like, what colors they prefer.
The vouchers have no financial limit and the staff make sure people get everything they need, delivered. “They leave with huge relief because the house that is now empty will soon have everything they need; they also come out with their heads held high.
Case Study: A Tired 12-Year-Old Needs More Sleep
Tara*’s 12-year-old son is currently sleeping on an Ikea mattress as she tries to raise funds to buy him the bed he needs. He lived with his father until he came back to live with her and one of her eldest daughters at Christmas. “A friend lent us a mattress – it’s from one of those Ikea trundle beds that their child owns,” Tara explains.
It’s better than nothing, she says, but he can’t get a good night’s sleep. “He comes home from school and he’s broken. I find it hard to get him up in the morning and eat his breakfast because he’s so tired.
It’s not just a bed he’s missing – there’s no carpet in the bedroom. “It’s just bare hardwood floors upstairs and brown tiles downstairs.”
* This is not his real name