Vulnerable families ‘struggling to afford beds’

Some of the UK’s most vulnerable families are struggling to afford essential household items such as fridges and beds due to a ‘poverty penalty’, says a new report from the campaign group Family Action.

The report is based on online polling by YouGov, designed to find out what people consider to be the main spending pressures and unexpected costs of moving to and setting up a new home or maintaining an existing one. 2,338 adults were surveyed between 28 and 30 August 2013.

Key findings

  • Many families are struck by the unexpected costs associated with moving into a new home, including removal costs (cited by 25 per cent), buying new furniture (23 per cent) and buying essential household items such as fridges, washing machines and cookers (23 per cent). Millions of families are also struggling to maintain their homes, with one in 12 spending nothing at all on maintenance or essential household items over the previous year.
  • Four in ten (38 per cent) would be embarrassed if an essential household item used to entertain their guests was broken (rising to 46 per cent among those aged 25-34). People say they would sacrifice holidays and new clothes, and even cut spending on food and heating, to enable them to furnish their home. Others would use credit cards, borrow from family and friends, and/or use 'rent-to-own' shops.
  • Some low-income and vulnerable families struggle even to afford basic household goods such as beds and fridges. On top of that, low-income families are suffering from a 'poverty penalty' that forces them to pay more for essential goods, utilities and other services.
  • This phenomenon, also known as the 'poverty premium', can raise the cost of a household’s budget by as much as 10 per cent. Low-income families often feel they have no option but to buy products under pay-weekly rent-to-own arrangements, which may involve high interest rates. Other problems for such families include higher utility tariffs (caused by the imposition of pre-payment meters), the inability to access online or direct debit based discounts, the penalty of higher costs per unit caused by lower usage, limited choices and access to information, higher interest charges on consumer credit, and a lack of financial flexibility.

Family Action also raises concerns that localising elements of the Social Fund, which provided grants and crisis loans to help families in extreme poverty, risks leaving gaps in the state safety net. It is urging the government to tighten regulation of the rent-to-own market, and to review the operation of local support schemes following changes to the Social Fund.

Home Economics: How Families Struggle to Move into and Maintain their Homes, Family Action
LinksReport | Inside Housing report


Publication date: 
Oct 4 2013