The Bare Necessities?

How do you think you would cope without a bed? Not just a night on the couch, but nowhere comfortable to sleep day after day. Imagine not having an oven. How would you feed your family affordable nutritious food with only a kettle and a microwave? You might be fortunate enough to be able to quickly replace items of furniture and white goods when something breaks or goes wrong, but this is the daily reality for many households living in Furniture Poverty.

The End Furniture Poverty campaign was launched to research the issue of Furniture Poverty, in order to raise awareness, to educate people about the potential solutions to Furniture Poverty and, ultimately, to ensure that everyone has access to the essential furniture and goods they need to lead a secure life.

In discussions, we often found that the term ‘Furniture Poverty’ was a very broad one, with different meanings to different people. To some, an appliance such as a washing machine was considered absolute indispensable, whereas some thought it nonessential – others argued that it wasn’t furniture at all. Compiling this list means that we can all sing from the same hymn sheet when we discuss Furniture Poverty moving forward.

In 2016, we launched a consultation to establish what these ‘essential’ items were. By assembling a list – the items that a household needs access to in order to lead that basic acceptable quality of life, including the social aspects of life – we can give ourselves a benchmark by which to judge whether a household was living in Furniture Poverty. Respondents were asked to
rate from 1 to 5 1 being not essential, 5 being absolutely essential
a list of 19 items mentioned in the Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK (PSE) research project, led by the University of Bristol.

From this we arrived at a list of 10 essential items:

  • Bed, bedding and mattress

  • Table and chairs

  • Sofa and/or easy chairs

  • Wardrobe/drawers

  • Carpets in living rooms and bedrooms

  • Curtains or blinds

  • Washing machine

  • Refrigerator and freezer

  • Cooker/oven

  • TV

There was some debate around the inclusion of some items, as the graph below shows – a TV is the most obvious example here – and the exclusion of others. The debate is certainly something that we welcome - and will be exploring in a later blog.

The lower the standard deviation, the greater the consensus - a dining table and chairs proved to be the most divisive of the items.

Access Issues

The most commonly cited barrier to escaping Furniture Poverty was finding the funding to help cover the costs of furniture. This is exacerbated by cuts to Local Welfare schemes and the eligibility criteria that some charities operate, which some perceived as being too narrow.

Some items on the list (carpets, curtains and mattresses) were singled out as particularly difficult to access. While the obvious barrier to white goods is cost - even on preloved appliances, there are plenty of grants and schemes to help access these goods. It is especially challenging to find good quality preloved curtains, carpets and mattresses. The problem is made worse by the lack of funding out there from the third sector – carpets and curtains tend to be the hardest items to secure funding for.

If we are serious about tackling Furniture Poverty, we need to look at these issues and create a strategic approach addressing these main barriers. Initiatives such as welfare advice to make sure people are accessing all of the help that they are entitled to and ensuring there are low cost ways of accessing safe, affordable credit will be important parts of tackling Furniture Poverty.

If you would like to take part in the next wave of the Essential Items survey, or would like to receive updates from the End Furniture Poverty campaign, sign up here