An estimated 480,000 households, or 1.2 million adults and children, in the UK are missing at least one essential large appliance. Of these, 50,000 households, or 130,000 adults and children, are living both without a washing machine and without a fridge-freezer, appliances that many take for granted in maintaining their health and hygiene.

The importance of these essential appliances goes beyond their obvious functions. Research indicates that living without them could harm people’s finances, physical health and emotional health, thereby lowering wellbeing. Analysis by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) suggests support from members of the Association of Charitable Organisation (ACO) for purchasing white goods is likely to lead to improvements in quality of life, while those without appliances report negative impacts on spending, diet, and existing health conditions – which contribute to anxiety, depression and low self worth.

The cost of living crisis has very likely worsened the situation for those in appliance poverty, as prices of washing machines and fridge freezers have risen beyond the increases in either wages or benefit levels. In 2022, for example, the prices of major appliances and small electric goods increased by 8.4%, compared with the increase in the National Living Wage of 6.6% and an increase to the standard Universal Credit amount of 3.1%.

However, benevolent charities, such as those in the ACO umbrella body, have been stepping in. These charities provide financial assistance to those in need, including people who are ineligible for state support. Numerous ACO members award grants to individuals who are in appliance poverty.

This analysis shows that providing such support to people in appliance poverty has the potential to improve their wellbeing by a significant amount. Indeed, having large essential household appliances could improve a person’s wellbeing by around 0.4 points
(out of 10) on the life satisfaction scale. HM Treasury’s wellbeing evaluation guidance suggests that this boost in wellbeing has a value of £7,200 per adult for each year lived with appliances – or by as much as £6.7 billion a year across 940,000 adults.

Additionally, this analysis suggests that the typical grant provided by benevolent charities for purchasing these appliances not only helps to address the wellbeing gap experienced by those missing essential appliances, but could also save households 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.

Reforms to welfare which prevent people from falling into appliance poverty in the first place are essential. Nevertheless, there is a clear need for benevolent charities to play this role supporting people in appliance poverty, and particularly people who are ineligible for state help.

PBE’s analysis of wellbeing impacts compares the outcomes of households with and without appliances in national data. This is the best proxy available, but does not provide as clear a picture as an analysis that compared the outcomes of those who received ACO support versus those who did not would do. PBE recommends that ACO partners work together to harmonise and improve their data collection to enable a stronger conclusion in future economic evaluations. In particular, they could further strengthen the evidence of their impact by incorporating wellbeing measurement for beneficiaries before and after receiving the grant. This would more directly demonstrate the change in wellbeing associated with the support provided.

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