Around 3.8 million people were living in destitution in the UK last year, including a million children, a new report has suggested.
The flagship study conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggested that the figure for children has almost trebled since 2017 and topped one million for the first time since it began its research in 2015.
People are considered destitute if they have not been able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.
This can be because they either lack necessities like clothing, heating, shelter or food. Or because their income is so extremely low that they are unable to purchase these items for themselves.
Destitution is now commonplace across the UK, the report has found.
The rapid rise in the number of people experiencing destitution has been attributed to a combination of extremely low incomes, a threadbare social security system, the increasing cost of basic essentials and high levels of debt.
Over half of destitute households (57 per cent) have a weekly income of less than £85 a week. More than a quarter (27 per cent) have no income at all.
Nearly three-quarters of destitute households receive income from benefits. London has the highest levels of destitution in the country.
Newham tops the list as having the highest levels of any local authority, according to the JRF’s report. Another six London boroughs make the top 20 – Brent (6th), Southwark (8th), Barking and Dagenham (11th), Ealing (15th), Tower Hamlets (16th).
Manchester has the second highest levels of deprivation in the country, followed by Middlesbrough, Leicester, and Nottingham.
Paul Kissack, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “A million children experienced destitution last year – a number that has almost doubled since 2019.
“Across our country we are leaving families freezing in their homes or lacking basic necessities like food and clothing. Such severe hardship should have no place in the UK today – and the British public will not stand for destitution on this scale.
“The Government is not helpless to act: it is choosing not to. Turning the tide on destitution is an urgent moral mission, which speaks to our basic humanity as a country, and we need political leadership for that mission. That is why we are calling for clear proposals from all political parties to address this challenge with the urgency it demands.”
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University, said: “This is the most comprehensive and detailed study of its type but having robust data on destitution is meaningless unless acted upon at the highest levels.
“The number of children living in destitution in this country has nearly trebled since 2017. This is morally reprehensible and must act as a stark wake up call to policymakers across the political spectrum. No one of any age should be destitute in the UK today.
“To have these horrifying levels of destitution in a country like ours is a political choice. The scale of extreme material hardship we have uncovered reflects the state abdicating its responsibility to ensure that all members of our society are able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed without having to rely on charitable help. There must be immediate action from all levels of government to tackle this social emergency.”
Local authorities ranked by levels of destitution – top 50
7: Newcastle upon Tyne
9: Kingston upon Hull, City of
11: Barking and Dagenham
16: Tower Hamlets
21: Blackburn with Darwen
26: Glasgow City
37: Waltham Forest
41: Kensington and Chelsea
44: Hammersmith and Fulham
47: West Northamptonshire