Research shows material harship is no longer a rarity
A surge in extreme poverty has left one million children experiencing destitution in the UK, new research has found.
The study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says that material hardship is no longer rare with destitution doubling over the last five years.
Benefit cuts alongside cost of living pressures means many households is making subsistence incredibly difficult if not impossible for many families.
JRT found that nearly three-quarters of people experiencing destitution are in receipt of social security payments, further evidence of benefit inadequacy.
Ad-hoc support from the UK government, first during the pandemic and now to help with the cost of living, has not halted the rising level of destitution.
“We urgently need a bold and ambitious programme of action to address destitution and its corrosive impacts,” the organisation stated.
Charities offering support were now providing essential services instead of being there as temporary fixes previously. One charity worker told researchers: “We used to worry about food banks opening. Now we’re worrying about food banks closing. That’s how bad it is in our country right now.”
Meagre benefit rates meant a single adult on the basic £85 weekly rate of universal credit was by definition in severe hardship, falling below the £95 a week destitution threshold, the study said.
The two-child benefit limit and benefit sanctions also drove destitution. The UK social security system was “full of holes”, it concluded.
JRF’s chief executive, Paul Kissack, criticised the government for in effect ignoring the rise in destitution. “The government is not helpless to act; it is choosing not to,” he said. “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.”
A co-author of the study, Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of Heriot-Watt University, described soaring destitution as “morally reprehensible” and said the UK state had abdicated its responsibility to society’s poorest. “There must be immediate action from all levels of government to tackle this social emergency,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “Our number one priority is driving down inflation because that will help everyone’s money go further.
“There are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 400,000 fewer children, but we know some families are struggling, which is why we are providing support worth an average of £3,300 a household, including raising benefits by over 10% this year, and are increasing the national living wage again.
“To help people out of poverty through work, we are also investing £3.5bn to help thousands into jobs and are removing barriers for parents with the biggest ever expansion of free childcare – providing 30 free hours of childcare for working parents and support for children from nine months old to when they start school. This will save eligible parents up to an average of £6,500 a year.”