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Destitution in the UK: 668,000 Household in Shocking Poverty

Posted by feww on April 27, 2016

‘Destitution occurs in a context of severe poverty over a considerable period of time’

An estimated 668,000 UK households were destitute in 2015. That’s 1,252,000 people — of whom 312,000 were children, according to a report.

Of people experiencing destitution, some

  • 76% go without food
  • 71% lack adequate clothing and footwear
  • 63% have no access to toiletries
  • 56% unable to heat homes
  • 30% unable to light homes

Other key findings of the report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation are listed below:

  • While some migrant groups face disproportionate risks of destitution, the great majority (79 per cent) of those destitute were born in the UK.
  • Destitution is not usually a one-off, transient episode, but occurs in a context of severe poverty and hardship over a considerable period of time.
  • The key triggers pushing people in poverty into destitution include debt repayments (usually to public authorities); benefit delays and sanctions; high living costs; and, for some migrants, extremely low levels of benefits and lack of access to the UK labor market.
  • People affected by destitution feel ‘demeaned’, ‘degraded’ and ‘humiliated’ by having to seek help with basic material needs like food, clothes and toiletries from charitable organizations, friends or family.

Definition of destitution
People are destitute if:

a) They, or their children, have lacked two or more of these six essentials over the past month, because they cannot afford them:

Shelter (have slept rough for one or more nights)

Food (have had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days)

Heating their home (have been unable to do this for five or more days)

Lighting their home (have been unable to do this for five or more days)

Clothing and footwear (appropriate for weather)

Basic toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush).

To check that people were going without these items because they could not afford them we: asked respondents if this was the reason; checked that their income was below the standard relative poverty line (i.e. 60 per cent of median income after housing costs for the relevant household size); and checked that they had no or negligible savings.


b) Their income is so extremely low that they are unable to purchase these essentials for themselves or their children.

We set the relevant weekly ‘destitution’ income thresholds by averaging: the actual spend on these essentials of the poorest 10 per cent of the population; 80 per cent of the JRF Minimum Income Standard costs for equivalent items; and the amount that the public thought was needed for a relevant sized household to avoid destitution. The resulting (after housing costs) weekly amounts were £70 [$102] for a single adult living alone, £90 for a lone parent with one child, £100 for a couple, and £140 for a couple with two children. We also checked that households had insufficient savings to make up for the income shortfall.

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