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Over 1.5 million people were destitute in the UK in 2017

07 June 2018

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is calling for the redesign of the social security system to ensure that nobody in the UK is left without the bare essentials that we all need to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.

Read JRF report: Destitution in the UK 2018

JRF’s Destitution in the UK 2018 report says serious physical health and mental health problems were reported by almost half of all destitute respondents. A survey of people using Trussell Trust food banks showed that disabled people are at a highly disproportionate risk of destitution in the UK.

These were the main factors, the report finds, which tip people into destitution:

  • low benefit levels, delays in receiving benefits and sanctions
  • harsh and uncoordinated debt recovery practices by public authorities and utility companies
  • pressures caused by poor health or disability
  • high costs for housing and other essentials.

Loss of disability or sickness-related benefits was a key income shock triggering destitution, reported by one-quarter of all interviewees. Most in this group had been migrated from Employment Support Allowance (ESA) onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Universal Credit, after being assessed as fit for work. This usually meant both that they received a lower rate of benefit, and also faced a much higher degree of conditionality, with an associated increased risk of being sanctioned.

JRF is calling on the UK Government to:

  1. End the freeze on working-age benefits so they at least keep up with the cost of essentials.
  2. Change the use of sanctions within Universal Credit so that people are not left destitute by design.
  3. Review the total amount of debt that can be clawed back from people receiving benefits, so they can keep their heads above water.