Local Welfare and Furniture Provision: The Limits of Cash-First

Local welfare and furniture provision: the limits of cash first

The provision of cash to individuals in crisis, rather than ‘in-kind’ support such as food parcels and vouchers, is increasingly considered the best way to deliver local authority crisis support. There is support across the anti-poverty sector for a ‘cash-first’ approach because research has shown it is more effective and more dignified.  End Furniture Poverty (EFP) fully support cash-first for food and fuel support.

When it comes to furniture and appliance provision, however, cash is not necessarily king.

As local authorities increasingly trial cash-first approaches to crisis support, it is vital that we highlight the provision of furniture and appliances as a distinct type of support. Providing households with items rather than cash can be much more effective and dignified when it comes to essential furniture items. If done well, there are several benefits to a council working with a furniture supplier to ensure those in crisis get the support that they need.

EFP spoke to six local authorities in January 2024 to better understand why they choose to provide items or cash. We also spoke to a leading furniture provider, who work with several councils, to better understand what they do to ensure individuals in crisis get the best possible support. Through these conversations, we identified three primary benefits to the direct provision of furniture and appliances. They are:

Financial Savings

When spending significant sums on providing furniture and appliances, working with a furniture supplier can be cheaper than giving individuals cash, due to bulk buying power and the ability to provide energy efficient items. One council we spoke to works with a charity that provides preloved goods, which are even cheaper than sourcing new.

Certainty for the council

Providing items directly also gives local authorities certainty that public money is going on what it has been allocated for. Authorities can ensure that a £200+ grant is being spent on an appliance that is high quality, long-lasting, and warrantied – meaning that the recipient will enjoy the long-term health, financial and social benefits essential goods allow for.

Customer service

Extremely enlightening in these conversations was learning about the customer service that can be provided by a council working with a furniture supplier to support service users. It is here, where item provision really shines. Logistics teams can be trained in delivering to vulnerable households – taking care of installation, arranging repeat deliveries and doing repairs; customer service can signpost service users to extra support; responsiveness can be built into the model to ensure those who need an immediate delivery receive it much sooner than they otherwise would.

And crucially, a council working with a furniture provider can show a level of empathy that cash alone simply cannot offer. As the furniture provider told us: “There’s other things in people’s lives. It is not just about a furniture delivery.”

Currently the majority of local authorities agree that direct provision is best, with 76% of Local Welfare Assistance spending on furniture being on the item itself in 2022/23. But with cash-first rightly gaining momentum, it is critical that local authorities remember to treat furniture and appliances differently. Councils must continue to provide essential items to those in need, working with suppliers where appropriate to offer the best possible support to those experiencing furniture poverty.



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