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What is furniture poverty?

House with no furniture

You may have heard of food poverty and fuel poverty, but furniture poverty may be one term you’re not familiar with.

It’s not that it’s a cryptic clue or something difficult to work out—it is what it says it is; however, it may be that you’ve never really considered that some people don’t have the furniture needed to enjoy even a basic quality of life.

In the United Kingdom, a silent crisis is unfolding. Furniture poverty refers to a lack of essential furniture and household items that many individuals and families face due to financial constraints. As the cost-of-living crisis continues to grip the nation, the issue of furniture poverty is becoming increasingly prevalent.

An increasing number of individuals and families are unable to afford the basic furniture and essential household items necessary for daily living. This often includes items such as beds, sofas, tables, chairs and kitchen appliances. Without these essentials, people are forced to endure discomfort, inadequate sleep and limited functionality within their homes, further exacerbating the challenges they face in their daily lives.

Exorbitant food prices, rising housing costs, stagnant wages, and increasingly high utility bills have significantly contributed to the escalation of furniture poverty. As families and individuals struggle to make ends meet, discretionary spending on furniture takes a backseat, leaving many without the means to furnish their homes adequately.

Which sections of our society may be more prone to furniture poverty?

Old burnt out chair that some poor people might be forced to use.

When young individuals or couples move out of their family homes or student accommodation, they often face financial constraints that limit their ability to furnish their new homes. Starting from scratch, they may resort to sleeping on the floor or using makeshift arrangements until they can afford essential furniture.

Individuals who flee abusive homes often escape with nothing but the clothes on their backs, leaving them without the means to furnish any alternative accommodation. Furniture poverty adds an additional burden to their already traumatic experience, which can make it harder for them to rebuild their lives.

Former inmates re-entering society face numerous challenges, one of which is furniture poverty. Leaving prison with minimal resources, they often lack the means to acquire basic furniture, hindering their chances of a successful reintegration into society. This same scenario goes for migrants after their applications to reside in the UK are granted.

Think of this…

The number of children without a bed in the UK tops 400,000, according to statistics. You’ll know yourself how distracted (and grumpy) you can become if you don’t get a good night’s sleep—imagine this every single night, then envisage trying to take in facts and figures at school the day after, possibly on an empty stomach, too. I don’t have the words to say how angry this makes me. Supposed third world countries have a better standard of living than some of our children in the UK.

Efforts to combat furniture poverty

Despite the growing prevalence of furniture poverty, there are commendable initiatives aimed at addressing this issue and supporting those in need. Several companies and schemes have emerged to provide assistance, such as the Furniture Reuse Network. This is an umbrella organisation for over 300 furniture recycling and reuse charities across the UK. They collect unwanted furniture, refurbish it, and distribute it to individuals and families in need.

Some local councils offer furniture banks or voucher schemes that enable low-income households to attain essential items of furniture and white goods. These initiatives help bridge the gap between those who can afford furniture and those who cannot.

Various social enterprises have emerged, such as The Living Wage Foundation's ‘Furniture for All’ initiative, which offers affordable and sustainable furniture options to those on lower incomes. These enterprises focus on providing quality furniture at reduced prices to help alleviate furniture poverty.

There are also recycling sites such as Freecycle UK, that help to avoid still-usable items of furniture going to landfill; instead, offering it free to those in need.

You can find a number of groups across social media platforms that often give away unwanted items of furniture with life still in them. Facebook Marketplace is another good place to look for decent items of furniture at a low price, or for free.

It’s sad that we need to talk about what furniture poverty means. It’s even sadder that we don’t have to explain what fuel poverty and food poverty involve, as these issues are so widespread and integral to factions of UK society. There’s something so very wrong about that, don’t you think?

The poorest in our society must be going through Hell at the moment, and there isn’t any sign of a let up on the horizon. Publicly-funded supposed lifelines are systematically being snatched away from them at every turn, and however well-meaning the general public is, we’re all having to tighten our belts in the current economy (well, the majority of us are), which may prevent us from being as generous as we’d like to be to people in dire circumstances.

I can only hope that we’ve reached rock bottom as a country, and that we’ll see some upward mobility for the most vulnerable in society when this government finally leaves office.


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