Benefit rates remain “close to destitution levels”, says JRF

Mon,30 January 2023
News Benefits
In a new research report, UK Poverty 2023, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reports that around 13.4 million people (one in five) - were in poverty in 2020/21.

However, it also highlights that living standards are likely to have fallen further since this 2020/21 official data as benefits only increased by 3.1% when inflation was and is still much higher.

The JRF acknowledges that benefits were increased in line with inflation for 2023, as was the benefit cap, with Cost of Living Payments added to these to help recipients cope with higher prices.

It then stresses, however, that the basic rate of benefits remains “close to destitution levels”.

This is because inflation is still forecast to remain well above the Bank of England target and because lower inflation “just means prices are rising less quickly but not falling, following the large recent increases”.

There are 14.6 million disabled people in the UK – around 1 in 5 people.

The JRF highlights that: “Disabled people face a higher risk of poverty and have done so for at least the last 20 years.

“This is driven partly by the additional costs associated with disability and ill-health, and partly by the barriers to work disabled people face.

As a result, disabled people and/or families where someone is disabled frequently rely on benefit payments as a source of income, which at current rates will almost inevitably lead to higher poverty rates”.

The JRF’s new research shows that:

  • the poverty rate for disabled people is 29%, some 9 percentage points above those who are not disabled.
  • disabled working-age adults are almost twice as likely to live in poverty compared with those who are not (35% and 18% respectively)
  • only around half of disabled people aged 16 to 64 (48%) in the UK were in employment compared with 8 in 10 (80%) for non-disabled people.

There are some elements designed into the benefits system that increase poverty says the JRF, including:

  • the two-child limit in income-related benefits
  • the benefit cap
  • the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment
  • unaffordable debt deductions from benefits
  • Local Housing Allowance rates frozen since April 2020

However, it concludes that: “What is evident beyond this though is that the basic rates of benefits are inadequate and do not allow recipients to meet their essential needs.

“Resetting basic benefit rates and ensuring that they cannot be brought below these rates through the repayment of advances or other deductions is a critical step to protecting people who need benefits, not just during this cost of living crisis but whenever anyone needs social security support”.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “Since 2008, Government welfare benefit changes have resulted in vanished financial security for with many Disabled people left living in poverty as a result.

“Radical reform of the disability benefits system is urgently needed not only to provide better and reliable financial support.

“It also needs to provide tailored support to those disabled people who could work without compulsion and conditionality and treat of sanction.

“In addition, benefit rates policy must be informed by regular research on minimum income standards along the lines of that conducted annually by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation”.

UK Poverty 2023 is available from

See also our related news story Resolution Foundation find 44% income gap for Disabled people.