Putting Furniture Poverty to Bed

Nick Oettinger, managing director at R&R Beds, comments on the rise of furniture poverty in the UK and why the public sector needs to do more to help families in need of basic household furniture.

Getting home at the end of a long day and getting into bed for a well-earned rest – just one of the everyday activities not always possible for the 14 million UK families unable to afford one or more basic household goods like beds and mattresses[1].

This inability to purchase even the most basic of household items is known as furniture poverty; less conspicuous than fuel or food poverty but just as detrimental to everything from an individual’s sense of dignity to the ability to get a good night’s sleep.

The number of UK households struggling to cope with these poor living conditions has more than doubled over the last 20 years[2], with more and more families now living without basic amenities like washing machines, kettles, curtains, mattresses, beds and chairs.

Furniture poverty is a nationwide problem in the UK, however on a regional level it is London that has the highest number of individuals living on a low income, with 2.3 million people struggling financially after housing costs. The South East has the second highest number, with 1.6 million, closely followed by the North West with an average of 1.5 million people living in relative poverty – a state of poverty defined relative to the members of a particular society.

The lack of ability to afford basics such as a bed and a good quality mattress can have dire consequences for an individual’s quality of life and can even perpetuate the poverty in which they live. Returning home from a potentially stressful day’s work in a low-paid job and being unable to get a good night’s sleep due to having to sleep on a thin, poor quality mattress leads to an increased level of stress which then leads to poor performance at work.[3]

For families with young children the effects of furniture poverty can be even more severe, particularly when it comes to getting enough sleep. At this early stage of their development, sleep is of vital importance to their health and growth, and missing out on proper rest is known to result in poor attention, lower grades, school absences, social interaction issues and irritability[4]. General health is also affected, with studies linking lack of sleep to hormonal disorders, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure[5]. Of course, these physical and psychological problems also apply to adults who are suffering from poor quality or a lack of sleep, and it’s the people living in poverty and low-income housing who are suffering the most.

All it takes to dramatically improve the amount and quality of sleep a person gets is access to a bed with a good quality mattress. 14 per cent of people living on a low income (less than £15,000 per year) say their bed is the reason for poor sleep quality[6], and so often these are the people who aren’t able to access new mattresses.

Imagine, then, the difference that could be made to children and adults living in relative poverty across the UK, if they could simply have access to a good quality mattress and get the restorative sleep that everybody deserves regardless of their household income.

Due to budget restrictions, social housing organisations are simply not able to source and provide mattresses of a suitable quality in order to facilitate a good night’s sleep for people living in social housing.

We are working on projects with recyclers, charities and public sector organisations to ensure everybody has access to a comfortable, durable mattress at home, by making sure that old and unwanted mattresses aren’t simply thrown away, but recycled and the reusable parts made into brand new, superior quality products and distributed to families in need.

A good day will only follow from a good night’s sleep and we believe excellent quality mattresses should not be restricted to only those with high levels of disposable income. It makes no sense to dispose of re-useable furniture, especially when we know that these items can be broken down and used to create brand new, superior quality products. With the recycling technology and capabilities we have today, there is absolutely no need for families to resort to sleeping on floors and makeshift surfaces when they could be sleeping on a comfortable bed.

Rather than just getting rid of unwanted furniture, we want to raise awareness of the recycling opportunities available to us and how the resulting products can be put to good use by someone in need. We know that over 7.5 million mattresses in the UK are sent to landfill every year, which, with a good recycling and re-use process, could be made use of and appreciated by families in need in the region and across the UK.

The public sector needs to step up efforts to identify and partner with more companies, charities, housing associations and recyclers to source good quality, affordable mattresses and beds for children and families living in furniture poverty. In doing so, they can help give these families the good night’s sleep they deserve and work towards ending furniture poverty in the UK.

For more information please visit www.randrbeds.co.uk