Study reveals the shocking extent of families living in destitution in the UK
Poverty is sweeping the UK like never before with over 1.25 million families being classed as destitute in 2015 according to a new study.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report was commissioned in response to perceptions that extreme poverty had risen in recent years with over 300,000 children being classed as such.
It has been conducted by experts at Heriot-Watt University with advice from a wide range of experts and service providers across the UK, and has taken two years to complete.
They defined destitution as when someone lacked two or more basic essentials in one month.
This means that, over this month, people have: slept rough, had one or no meals a day for two or more days, been unable to heat or to light their home for five or more days, gone without weather-appropriate clothes or gone without basic toiletries.
As such more than three-quarters of destitute people reported going without meals, while more than half were unable to heat their home. Destitution affected their mental health, left them socially isolated and prone to acute feelings of shame and humiliation.
It is simply unacceptable to see such levels of severe poverty in our country - John Unwin
In 2015, there were 668,000 destitute households containing 1,252,000 people, including 312,000 children. The study said this was an underestimate because the data did not capture poor households who eschewed charity handouts or used only state-funded welfare services.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "There are a shocking number of people in the UK living in destitution. It is simply unacceptable to see such levels of severe poverty in our country in the 21st Century.
"Governments of all stripes have failed to protect people at the bottom of the income scale from the effects of severe poverty, leaving many unable to feed, clothe or house themselves and their families.”
Citizens Advice Scotland spokesperson Rhiannon Sims said the figures are a sobering reminder that not enough is being done to prevent people from experiencing periods of no income, or to provide adequate support when people are faced with a crisis.
“Our 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,” she said.
“During 2014/15, 1 in 42 CAB clients needed advice in relation to foodbanks and food parcels.
“The rise in foodbank referrals, which reached one million in 2015/16, is another indicator that there is a huge section of society who are living in extreme poverty. This is not good enough.
“The UK and Scottish governments need to urgently address this crisis and implement policies which provide an adequate safety net for citizens of the UK.”
A UK government spokesman said: “The truth is that relative poverty is at the lowest level since the 1980s and the number of children in poverty has fallen by 300,000 since 2010.
“This report ignores a number of measures we’ve brought in to improve life chances, including the ‘national living wage’, the extension of free childcare to 30 hours and increases to the personal allowance. We also continue to spend £80bn on working age benefits to ensure a strong safety net for those who need it most.”