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BLOG | 1.25 million destitute in the UK: time to act

27 Apr 2016

Author - Rhiannon Sims, Policy Officer

Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published the first comprehensive study into destitution in the UK and has revealed that 1.25 million people, including over 300,000 children, were destitute in 2015. These figures are an alarming warning that more needs to be done to prevent people from experiencing periods of no income, and to provide adequate support when people are faced with a crisis. 

CAB evidence shows us that many people have no resilience to income shocks, and it only takes a delayed benefit payment or the loss of a shift at work to push someone into a situation in which they cannot afford basic essentials: food, shelter, warmth. During 2014/15, 1 in 42 CAB clients needed advice in relation to foodbanks and food parcels.

Over the past three years, CAS has seen a rise in cases relating to rent, council tax and utility arrears, with declining consumer credit debt. This shows that people can no longer afford to access high interest credit, and are instead falling behind on their rent, gas and electricity, putting them at risk of homelessness and poor health.

The Trussel Trust recently released figures showing that food bank referrals in the UK reached 1 million in 2015/16. This is yet another indicator that there is a huge section of society who are living in extreme poverty and demonstrates that either people are having difficulty accessing government-provided crisis support, or that the safety net provided by the UK and Scottish governments is insufficient to meet their needs.

It is interesting to note that the 'extremely low income' criterion for destitution in the JRF's definition is actually higher than the existing benefit entitlements for under-25s claiming Jobseekers Allowance. This is despite the fact that the definition was based on broad consensus and was developed in consultation with over 2000 adults across the UK. It is unsurprising, then, that the JRF report found that the group most at risk of destitution in the contemporary UK is younger single men. This raises questions about the UK government’s policies concerning benefit rates as well as how upcoming changes to the benefits system are going to impact on this vulnerable group, and on their life chances.  

One thing is clear: it is an outrage that over a million people in the UK are unable to meet their basic needs. The UK and Scottish governments need to urgently address this crisis of destitution and implement policies which provide an adequate safety net for citizens of the UK.

The full report and findings: Destitution in the UK by a team from I-SPHERE, Heriot-Watt University, is available to download for free from

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