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Spotlight on: Furniture Poverty

Spotlight on: Furniture Poverty

Spotlight on: Furniture Poverty

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Frontline homelessness workers across the UK are seriously concerned about the issue of furniture poverty. So, what is it and what can be done? This blog shares learning from the latest Frontline Worker Survey and the work of End Furniture Poverty.


What is furniture poverty?

“We define furniture poverty, (including white goods), as the inability to access, or afford to buy or maintain, any household furniture or appliance item that is essential to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living.” – End Furniture Poverty


What is the scale of this issue?

Rachel Marshall, Policy & Best Practice Manager at St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity

In our latest Frontline Worker Survey, conducted in November-December 2022, we heard from 1,182 individuals who work in roles supporting people facing homelessness. Staff consistently described the fundamental lack of accommodation available, however even where accommodation could be accessed, there were still reportedly significant challenges in making sure this was suitable for households to live in and call a home.

Our evidence shows concerning trends in the context of the rising cost of living, with furnished accommodation becoming even more difficult to obtain, and furniture and white goods more difficult to access:

  • 73% of frontline workers found obtaining furnished accommodation “very difficult” or “difficult” for people they supported (compared to 69% in 2021).
  • 45% of frontline workers found it “very difficult” or “difficult” to access furniture for people they supported (compared to 39% in 2021) and 42% of frontline workers found it “very difficult” or “difficult” to access white goods for people they supported (compared to 38% in 2021).

Frontline workers shared stories of the impact this had on people they were supporting:

  • “No services that I've worked with in England and Wales over the past 4 years have provided furniture for people moving in. A carpet or flooring in a flat is essential as is somewhere to sit, but […] clients are being left with cold concrete floors.”
  • “A family can only have a washing machine if they have 2 children or more. There is a lack of laundrettes and it is expensive and difficult to take your laundry via public transport. It also costs those without a freezer or cooker much more to eat as they can't buy in bulk or cook from scratch so compounds struggles.”
  • “Most of the families I am working with are in temporary accommodation but are finding it hard to find donated furniture, I had to beg to get a mum a bed, she was sleeping on a very small two seater sofa.”

Where so much accommodation is unfurnished, how do people go about sourcing furniture and white goods? Our previous research in 2021 explored this topic further. We found that it was most common for frontline workers to source furniture and white goods using grants from a charity (65% of frontline workers did this ‘very often’ or ‘often’), followed by reuse sector organisations/ charities (58%) and the Local Welfare Assistance (England), the Discretionary Assistance Fund (Wales), Discretionary Support (Northern Ireland) or the Scottish Welfare Fund (55%).

However recent frontline worker feedback highlighted the increasing difficulty of accessing funds to furnish homes:

  • “Grant providers that assist with small payments/funds for items such as white goods etc, are taking longer and longer to process now, require more for client to fit criteria, decline our referrals more often, are stricter with what they will award or offer, or have run out of money and cannot provide grants.” 
  • “I work in Wales so the DAF is great for the basics, something to sit on, something to cook with and something to sleep on. However it doesn't grant carpets or furniture beyond a bed and sofa / chair. Grants are becoming more and more difficult to access for those items.” 
  • “The removal of community care grants and a significant reduction in the support available in local crisis support means that people who needs to replace essential household items or purchase for the first time when securing accommodation have very few options and this can be a problem for maintaining a tenancy.” 

These findings are supported by End Furniture Poverty’s recent research on the scale of furniture poverty in the UK. The Extent of Furniture Poverty (2023) revealed that over six million people in the UK are living without at least one essential furniture item (including white goods). More than one million people are missing three or more items and living with the more severe consequences of furniture poverty.


How do we End Furniture Poverty?

David Bond, Policy Research & Campaigns Officer, End Furniture Poverty

Ultimately, furniture poverty is about poverty. To end furniture poverty, we must weed out poverty itself. We need a fairer distribution of wealth, nationwide access to jobs and training opportunities, and a strong safety net in place for those times when we need it.

However, this is unlikely to happen soon. End Furniture Poverty will continue to campaign for a society that works for us all, but in the meantime, here are some practical ways you can access furniture for your client:

Local Welfare Assistance Schemes

  • In England, the best way to access furniture is through your council’s Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) Scheme. LWA schemes are local, discretionary schemes that provide grants to people facing a crisis. They provide help with food, fuel, furniture and white goods. Sadly, not all local authorities run a scheme and some are better than others. You can check if there is a scheme in your area on our Local Welfare Assistance Finder.
  • Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run centrally administered welfare schemes, called The Scottish Welfare Fund, The Discretionary Assistance Fund (Wales), and Discretionary Support (NI). All three schemes are relatively well funded and should be applied for online.

Household Support Fund

  • The Household Support Fund is a national £1bn fund established to help people afford essentials as the cost of living rises. In England, local authorities have discretion on how to distribute the fund, so your client may be able access furniture through it. If you search online for ’Household Support Fund’ and your local authority, you should find information on how the fund is being used in your area and how to apply for your client.

Charitable Grants

  • You may be able to access furniture for your client through a charitable grant. There are many different grant providers in the UK, all with different eligibility criteria and levels of funding. To find out which grants are relevant for your client, it is advisable to use a tool such as the Lightning Reach Portal or Turn2Us grant-finder.
  • There are also lots of smaller, occupational grant-givers. It is worth doing a Google search for any occupation your client has had, and ‘hardship grant’. All kinds of industries have hardship funds. There are funds out there for bakers, gardeners, bar workers, nurses, insurers and more.
  • Transformation Cornwall have compiled a list of grant-givers here, to give you an idea of the range of organisations out there.

Social Landlords

  • Some social housing providers have their own hardship funds, so if your client lives in social housing you should contact their landlord to see what is available.
  • There are also landlords who offer furnished tenancies or even have used furniture available for tenants to access. Again, each housing provider has their own policies in place so it is best to contact the landlord directly.

Preloved Furniture

  • There are hundreds of furniture reuse organisations across the UK where you can access cheap, or even free, preloved furniture. What is available to your client depends upon the organisations that operate in your area. The Reuse Network has a map of furniture reuse organisations on their website.
  • Local charity shops are often a good source of cheaper, preloved furniture. The British Heart Foundation have furniture shops nationally.
  • It can also be fruitful to perform a Google search for ‘preloved’ or ‘second hand’ furniture and the area in which your client lives to see if there are any local shops that can help.
  • Finally, you can sometimes find free or cheap furniture on Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree.

Affordable credit

  • For those able to access it, affordable credit can be a good way of acquiring furniture without taking on unmanageable debt.
  • A good place to start is your client’s local credit union. A Credit Union is a financial cooperative which provides savings, loans and a range of services to its members. It is owned and controlled by the members so it’s aim is to provide the best service to members rather than profits for shareholders.
  • Fair for You offers flexible and affordable loans to people on low incomes. It allows families to buy goods direct from their suppliers, with flexible affordable repayment schedules.
  • Smarter Buys works in partnership with a number of social landlords to offer tenants a responsible, affordable finance alternative to high-cost high street stores. If you aren’t a social tenant you can still purchase furniture and white goods but you may need a debit or credit card to do so.

End Furniture Poverty also have a full ‘finding furniture guide’ which can be found here.


Learn more about this topic…

End Furniture Poverty are lobbying the government for more funding for local authority crisis support, working with the social housing sector to encourage them to provide at least 10% of their stock as furnished, and campaigning with the Reuse Network to establish regional reuse hubs. To find out more about their lobbying and campaigning work, visit EFP's website.

Claire Donovan, Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns for End Furniture Poverty also spoke about this topic at the recent Frontline Network Conference - you can find a recording of the session here.

Finally, if you’re a frontline homelessness worker, sign up to the Frontline Network newsletter to receive updates about upcoming events, opportunities and resources to support you in your work and to take part in future surveys.


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