“Not many people realise that social housing is given completely unfurnished. That doesn’t just mean no furniture; it means no white goods, no flooring, no window coverings – literally empty shells,” says Emily Wheeler. “People think that if you’re given housing and you’ve got a roof over your head that the problem is solved, but really, it’s just the beginning.”
Wheeler, who has worked in frontline social services in London for the past 20 years, launched charitable initiative Furnishing Futures in 2019, in response to the growing problem of furniture poverty. The project aims to fully furnish the homes of families — particularly women living in temporary accommodation who are the victims of domestic abuse.
When social housing is allocated, Wheeler explains, it is often council policy to strip it out completely, from flooring to white goods. But buying furniture, even second-hand, is costly, and there are significant barriers to accessing furniture for free. This leaves potentially vulnerable occupants without basic items: pots and pans, beds, wardrobes, bed linen, fridges. “People are surviving in a rudimentary way – it is surviving, not really living, if you don’t have those basic items.”
A 2021 report by End Furniture Poverty, the campaigning and social research arm of a group of charities, found that just one per cent of social rented lets in the UK were furnished, while an additional one per cent were partly furnished. Social housing tenants, they concluded, were also more likely to experience furniture poverty than private renters and homeowners — something that has been compounded by cuts to local authority budgets under austerity measures.