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Social housing is 98% ’empty box’ unfurnished properties, report warns

The vast majority of social housing does not have essential items such as beds, cookers or a table and chairs, according to research.
Vulnerable people could be moving into bare properties without essential furniture. Image credit: End Furniture Poverty Campaign

Vulnerable people and those on low incomes could be moving into “empty box” social housing without essential furniture such as beds, cookers and tables, or the bare minimum of floor coverings and curtains, a new report has warned. 

Research by the End Furniture Poverty campaign raised concerns that people experiencing poverty, fleeing domestic violence, escaping homelessness or leaving care could be forced to move into social housing with no furniture and no money to buy any.

The campaigners found that just two per cent of social rented properties are let as furnished or partly furnished, compared to 29 per cent of private rented properties, according to 2018 data.

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While not all tenants in social housing experience poverty, “they appear to be more likely to experience it than private renters and homeowners”, wrote the report’s authors.

Claire Donovan, campaigns manager for End Furniture Poverty, told the Big Issue that a decade of austerity, the Covid-19 pandemic, and increasing prices had created a “perfect storm” that would push more people into “furniture poverty”.

She added the campaign had produced the No Place Like Home report to work with social landlords to create furnished tenancy schemes. 

“We have long believed that furnished tenancies can provide a comprehensive solution to furniture poverty for some people, primarily those in receipt of housing benefit,” Donovan said. 

“While we understand that social landlords face many challenges and that they work tirelessly to support their tenants, we have produced this report to help us to better understand how we can help them to extend that support and create furnished tenancy schemes.”

End Furniture Poverty was launched in 2015 to raise awareness of what they call “furniture poverty” – it is the campaigning arm of the FRC Group, a social business and charity based in Liverpool who provide furniture to people struggling to afford it.

The campaigners describe furniture poverty on their website: “It is the single mother and child sharing a mattress on the floor for a bed, the family with no cooker who can only make hot food that requires hot water from a kettle, the family with no wardrobes or chests of drawers so clothes are stored in black bags on the floor, the family where there is no table for children to eat from or do their homework.”

A property with no furniture. Image credit: End Furniture Poverty Campaign

The group says it is crucial everybody has access to the essential furniture and goods they need to lead a secure life. But at the moment, they argue, this isn’t happening.

According to the new report, 49 per cent of social housing tenants lived in poverty before the pandemic and material deprivation among social tenants remains high.

Social housing is provided by councils and housing associations at reduced rent and is more affordable than private renting. According to housing charity Shelter, it can provide a more secure, long-term tenancy. 

But there are fears more needs to be done to increase supply. The Local Government Association warned a “post-pandemic building boom” of 100,000 social homes was needed to deal with long waiting lists and stop people falling into homelessness. 

The End Furniture Poverty report found those moving into social housing without essential furniture said it had a negative impact on their wellbeing and finances, as well as leading to social exclusion.

Peter, who is quoted in the report, moved into a house with only two appliances and no furniture after escaping homelessness. He said he was too embarrassed to have guests visit.

“I’ve got friends and family who want to come round but I’m refusing them to come because I feel embarrassed,” he said. “My daughter can’t come and stay because I don’t want her to come into a flat where I haven’t got anything.”

The report’s authors also heard from people who had moved into accommodation under a furnished tenancy agreement, with furniture provided. William said it made him feel more comfortable not worrying about where he would get essentials such as chairs.

“If I didn’t have anything to sit on then it would cause me some stress,” he said. “If your house is derelict, you wouldn’t want to go home, would you? For me, personally, it is comforting to know that you have got a furnished place to call home.”

The next step, the campaign said, is to work with those who provide social housing and urge them to make more homes available that already have essential items, such as beds, fridges and cookers.

Donovan added: “We hope our report will encourage many more social landlords to create new furnished tenancy schemes to support their tenants and to improve their tenancy sustainability.

“A decade of austerity followed by the terrible impact of Covid-19 has pushed too many families into poverty, and into furniture poverty. 

“Living without essential furniture items has so many negative impacts on people’s lives and we are here to support social landlords and help them to set up a furnished tenancy scheme.”