What is Furniture?
This is the latest in a series of blogs from EFP, exploring some of the fundamental questions that surround the issue of Furniture Poverty.
What is furniture? No, this isn’t a trick question, but it is one of the important debates we have had to have at End Furniture Poverty in order to ensure that our efforts are focussed in the right areas.
These days the field of poverty prevention is, sadly, a crowded one. Like fuel, food and period poverty, we feel that furniture poverty is an important and distinct area of poverty that needs to be tackled. There is considerable overlap between these competing interests – a household without an oven or fridge is probably in food poverty for example, while a lack of floor and window coverings can exacerbate the problems a household faces with fuel poverty.
Back to the original question…
The Oxford English Dictionary defines furniture as “the movable articles that are used to make a room or building suitable for living or working in.” We know that furniture is so much more than that. A bed is, of course, somewhere to sleep but it is also the key to a good night’s sleep, improved mental and physical health and the cornerstone of a productive day. An oven does more than just cook food; it also provides an opportunity to teach life skills to children and invite friends and family around for dinner. Furniture is so much more than functional; it is the basis for leading a healthy life – mentally, physically emotionally and socially.
At EFP we are especially keen to stress that the mental and emotional impacts of poverty are as important as the material. Everybody should be able to lead an ordinary (read societally acceptable) life – that means having access to the essential items of furniture that make this level attainable. The research undertaken as part of our Essential Items campaign helped us to establish a list of these indispensable white goods and items of furniture, but it also sparked a debate about the nature of furniture and which items should be excluded as much as included.
When is furniture not furniture?
Of our list of essential items, it could certainly be argued that carpets, curtains and televisions are not items of furniture – this is certainly a view taken by some housing associations and Local Welfare Provision schemes when making awards. However, we chose to see furniture as the items need to furnish a house to that minimum societally acceptable standard we mentioned before and, in the process, turn it into a home. We will deal specifically with the discussion over televisions in a later blog.
When asked about any items that should have been included in our survey, a number of respondents suggested that computers should be included. This proved to be a topic of heated discussion here at EFP. At the time, the decision was taken that computers and internet access were not an absolutely vital necessity when furnishing the home, and that they may even constitute a further strand of poverty: digital poverty. It is a debate that we look forward to revisiting when it comes to updating our list of essentials – we would certainly appreciate any input in the meantime.
Others suggested appliances such as kettles and microwaves. However, it was felt that these were not considered absolutely critical. After all, one would not be able to feed their family a healthy diet with a microwave and kettle, nor would they be able to without an oven. These items were therefore considered to be more of a comfort than necessity – an add on once the fundamentals had been taken care of.
Hopefully this blog has added a little clarity around the End Furniture Poverty campaign and what it is that we actually mean when we talk about ‘furniture’ within the context of poverty. We welcome any thoughts, contributions and suggestions on the topic. What do you think furniture should include? What does furniture mean to you? Please get in touch!
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