A damning new Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) research report highlights that there has been a “shameful increase” in the level of destitution in the UK, with a growing number of people struggling to afford to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

People are considered destitute if they have lacked two or more of the following six essentials over the past month because they cannot afford them:

  • Shelter (they have slept rough for one or more nights).
  • Food (they have had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days).
  • Heating their home (they have been unable to heat their home for five or more days).
  • Lighting their home (they have been unable to light their home for five or more days).
  • Clothing and footwear (appropriate for the weather).
  • Basic toiletries (such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and a toothbrush).


  • if their income is so extremely low that they are unable to purchase these essentials for themselves.

The new research shows that around 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022, including one million children. This is almost two-and-a-half times the number in 2017 and nearly triple the number of children.

The JRF says that this increase in deprivation “has deep and profound impacts on health, mental health and people’s prospects” and “also puts strain on already overstretched services”. Nearly three-quarters of people experiencing destitution are in receipt of social security payments which is further evidence of benefit inadequacy.

A key finding of the research identifies the strong links between disability and destitution. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of destitute survey respondents stated that their day-to-day activities were limited because of a chronic health problem or disability (up from 54 per cent in 2019). Men experiencing destitution were substantially more likely to report this than women.

There were also widespread reports that the process to claim disability benefits, such as (Personal Independence Payment), could be long and arduous. Sometimes this had detrimental impacts on interviewees’ mental health, as well as very substantial effects on their material well-being.

In fact, the JRF finds that, inadequate social security is a driver of destitution: “The social security system is failing to prevent destitution. The most common source of income for all destitute households was social security benefits (72 per cent), yet they still experienced destitution.The basic rate of social security is now so low, it fails to clear the extremely low-income cash threshold set for destitution.

“While Universal Credit payments rose in line with inflation in April 2023, most interviewees felt that it had made little difference to them because it was ‘swallowed up’ by the rapidly increasing costs of basic necessities. Similarly, the special ‘Cost of Living Payments’ aimed at people on means-tested benefits, who were disabled or pensioners, were also viewed as welcome but limited by their short-term nature.”

The JRF puts forward the following recommendations as to how destitution can be solved:

  • Universal Credit should have an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ to ensure everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials such as food and household bills.
  • An independent process should determine the Essentials Guarantee level, based on the cost of essentials. Universal Credit’s basic rate would need to at least meet this minimum amount, and deductions would not be allowed to reduce support below that level.
  • Undertake wider reforms to social security, including lowering the limit on deductions from benefits to repay debts; reforming sanctions so people are not left with zero or extremely low income; and ensuring people can access disability benefits they are entitled to.
  • Ensure cash-first emergency financial assistance is available in all areas, along with free and impartial advice services to address the crushing debt, benefits and housing issues that keep people destitute.
  • Enable everyone in our communities to access help in an emergency whether they have ‘no recourse to public funds’ or not – and resource local authorities to meet this additional need.
  • Local authorities, charities, independent funders and housing providers should also work together to prevent destitution and homelessness for people with restricted entitlement.

Ken Butler, Disability Rights UK (DR UK) Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser, said: “benefit rates are a national scandal. In an earlier research report, UK Poverty 2023, JRF highlighted 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.

“DR UK argues that policy in relation to benefit rates [should be] informed by independent research on minimum income standards along the lines of that conducted annually by the JRF. The Government should regularly commission such independent research, not least in relation to the benefit rates that particularly pertain to Disabled people. Without such information, benefits will not meet essential costs.

“But this should not be only a matter of subsistence. Independent living requires that Disabled people should be able to afford to take part in the range of social and cultural activities that much of society takes for granted.”

* The JRF report Destitution in the UK – income thresholds for October 2022 can be downloaded here.

* Source:Disability Rights UK