• PBE estimates 480,000 households missing at least 1 vital appliance
  • Equates to 1.2mn adults and children without at least either a washing machine or fridge-freezer
  • Problem likely to be worsening due to rising costs of white goods
  • Study estimates each year lived with appliances is linked to a wellbeing boost valued at up to £7,200 per adult

An estimated 1.2 million people in the UK today are living in appliance poverty – without at least a washing machine or fridge-freezer in their homes, according to a new study.

Research by Pro Bono Economics, commissioned by the Association of Charitable Organisations (ACO), has found that around 480,000 low-income households across the country, equating to close to 1.2mn adults and children, are missing at least one of the household appliances that millions take for granted in maintaining their health and hygiene.

Being in appliance poverty – living without an essential large household appliance such as a washing machine or a fridge-freezer – can harm people’s finances, physical health and emotional health, thereby lowering their wellbeing. This is especially the case for people on low incomes, those experiencing deprivation, and those with additional needs.

Households in appliance poverty often face a range of challenges arising through the absence of essential household appliances. Those without fridge-freezers may incur additional expenses by having to rely on fast food and takeaways. Benevolent charities supporting those in appliance poverty also report stories of parents having to handwash their children’s clothes and make frequent, costly trips to launderettes due to the absence of a washing machine at home.

The issue has become more pressing amid the cost of living crisis as levels of wages and benefits have failed to keep up with the rising price of goods.

Benevolent charities provide funding to support everyday spending, including the cost of essential appliances, to those individuals who are eligible. They are a vital source of support for those on low incomes and those with complex needs, including people ineligible or unable to access local authority financial hardship grants.

Using Treasury wellbeing evaluation guidance, PBE estimates that by acquiring large household appliances an adult receives a boost to their wellbeing worth £7,200 for each year lived with them.

Among its key findings, PBE’s report, titled White goods and wellbeing, the result of a commission by Fusion21 Foundation alongside a coalition of ACO members, found that:

  • An estimated 480,000 households, or 1.2mn adults and children, in the UK are missing at least one large household appliance (washing machine and/or fridge-freezer).
  • Within this group, there are around 50,000 households, or nearly 130,000 adults and children, living in the UK without both a washing machine and a fridge-freezer.
  • There are an estimated 150,000 households, or 350,000 adults and children, living in the UK with a washing machine but without a fridge-freezer.
  • And an estimated 280,000 households, or 670,000 adults and children, living in the UK with a fridge-freezer but without a washing machine.
  • Having both large household appliances is estimated to boost a person’s wellbeing by 0.4 points (out of 10) on the ONS life satisfaction scale. By following the Treasury’s wellbeing evaluation guidance, PBE calculates this wellbeing boost has a value of £7,200 per adult for each year lived with the appliances.
  • Consequently, it is estimated that the potential wellbeing benefits of lifting the 940,000 adults nationally who are missing at least one large household appliance out of appliance poverty could be as much as £6.7 billion a year.
  • A typical grant provided by benevolent charities for purchasing one of these appliances could save a household between £130 and £160 in interest payments, compared to purchasing the appliance through a typical rent-to-buy scheme, or £30 to £40 compared to the typical costs from using a credit card.

Individuals with experience of appliance poverty report negative impacts on their spending, diet and existing health conditions, which then help to fuel anxiety, depression and low self-worth.

The cost of living crisis has worsened the situation for those living without these household appliances. In 2021, prices for major appliances and small electrical goods increased by 4.7%, followed by a record rise of 8.4% in 2022. This compared to an increase in the National Living Wage of 6.6% and a 3.1% boost in standard Universal Credit payments between 2021/22 and 2022/23.

Over this period, local authorities around the UK have or have had Local Welfare Assistance (LWA) schemes in place designed to issue grants to those in financial hardship. These schemes offer a solution to many who cannot afford white goods. However, not everyone in financial hardship is eligible for these grants and the provision of LWA has been varied across England historically. As of 2020, one in seven local authorities did not offer a scheme at all.

Benevolent charities provide grants to help with everyday spending, including the purchase of essential appliances. Applications for grants are open to people who are in need, including those ineligible or unable to access state support.

Rachel Gomez, Senior Economist at Pro Bono Economics, said:

“The scale of appliance poverty identified in this research is deeply troubling and only likely to have grown in the wake of the cost of living crisis. PBE’s study found nearly half a million households across the UK are estimated to be without the essential appliances to either wash laundry or store food safely – many are missing both.

“For many of these low-income households, state support to access these appliances is simply not available. The UK’s network of benevolent charities provide vital funds to help plug this gap in support.

“This research indicates that through granting household appliances to those in need, these benevolent charities are likely to be improving wellbeing by lifting people out of appliance poverty, as well as helping these individuals avoid expensive high-cost credit alternatives.

“Ultimately, reforms to welfare which prevent people from falling into appliance poverty in the first place are essential. Nevertheless, the need for benevolent charities to play this role supporting people in need, and particularly people who are ineligible for state support, is essential.”

Donal Watkin, Chief Executive of the Association of Charitable Organisations, said:

“We’re proud to be connected with this report. It reflects a strong collaboration between a group of organisations that play an active role in supporting individuals and families in financial crisis.

“The end product is a set of tangible findings that will contribute not just to how charities effectively measure the impact of their activities, but also make an important broader contribution to the debate around how we work to reduce the prevalence of appliance poverty in the UK.”

Jo Hannan, Head of Fusion21 Foundation, said:

“The foundation’s main objectives are to make a visible impact in the areas of financial inclusion and resilience, as well as health and wellbeing.

“By working with the Association of Charitable Organisations and a partnership of 10 grant-making organisations, this report and its findings highlight the significance of appliance poverty and the impact that grant funders are making in this space.

“The benevolent charity sector provides crucial services for support and advice organisations to refer into, particularly during the cost of living crisis. We’re proud to fund this important research, which will inform the approach to measuring and articulating the sector’s impact - and, therefore, enabling further debate to drive positive change.”

Read the full report