By Maria Bustos Fabregui

25 August 2015 - 15:59

People are unaware of issues hidden behind walls. Furniture poverty is one example. Photo (c) Taber Andrew Bain, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.
People are unaware of issues hidden behind walls. Furniture poverty is one example. Photo ©

Taber Andrew Bain, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

What makes a house unliveable? Canadian student Maria Bustos Fabregui, who is being mentored by a social enterprise in the UK this summer as part of an international work-study exchange programme, explains.

Unaffordable accommodation, overcrowding, bad or unsafe housing conditions – these problems are part of what is called 'precarious housing'. They exist in every country, to varying degrees. Some issues are better known than others.

A lack of affordable housing

Reports show that, while the population in the UK continues to rise, not enough houses are being built to meet demand. Not only that, but rent prices are sky-rocketing. According to a survey conducted by Homelet, in the three months up to May 2015, average rental costs in the UK were 10.7 per cent higher than in May 2014, while tenant incomes have only increased by 2.4 per cent since 2014.

Even if individuals secure a lower-rent agreement, or share the cost, there are still other essential living costs to consider, such as food, transport and clothes. It’s no wonder that, with house prices going up so quickly, some people struggle to find suitable housing.


Many people in the UK are having to share small living spaces with others. This is a health issue because diseases spread more easily when people are crowded together.

There is also evidence that sharing small living spaces can be mentally draining. We all need our privacy and a place where we can relax – that place is usually our home or our own room. This becomes impossible in overcrowded conditions, potentially causing stress and anxiety for the inhabitants. This is especially true in the case of families with children, who need to have areas where children can play or do their homework.

Bad or unsafe conditions

Having a roof over our heads is essential, but what if the place we are living in is in poor condition? Unsafe housing is being reported in the UK, and much of the problem comes down to the need for better relationships between tenants and their landlords.

Some people face health and safety hazards, because the electrical equipment is in disrepair. For example, students have reported getting an electric shock in the shower because of exposed electrical wires near water.

Although university accommodation in the UK is of a very high standard, complaints about privately rented accommodation sometimes get ignored or are not prioritised. Students, and anyone else thinking of renting accommodation from a private landlord, should therefore inform themselves before going into a contract.

Hidden poverty in UK homes

Many of the problems discussed here affect the well-being of tenants. Often, the issue is one of hidden poverty and, in particular, the need for furnished accommodation. Consider the mother and child who share a mattress because there aren’t enough beds; the family without a cooker; the lack of a sofa to relax on after a hard day at work. This is the reality for some people today, and because it is hidden behind walls, there is a lack of awareness from the public on these types of issues.

People who are experiencing furniture poverty need better access to services that help tackle this issue, and in order for this to happen, more people and organisations need to become engaged in helping to end it.

Building new homes is certainly something we should be doing, but we need to keep in mind that having a roof over one's head is not same thing as having a home.

Visit FRC Group, where Maria is interning, and find out what they're doing to end furniture poverty.

Find out how undergraduate students from Canada and the UK are gaining valuable overseas experience and connecting with peers.

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