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Destitution: record high

May 12 2016
Destitute woman sleeping rough. ©Maureen Barl?in on Creative Commons Destitute woman sleeping rough. ©Maureen Barl?in on Creative Commons
1,252,000 peoplecan’t afford the basic essentials they need to eat, keep clean, and stay warm and dry

A UK study has revealed that 1.25 million people around the country, including over 300,000 children, are destitute. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which commissioned it, described destitution as the most severe form of poverty in the UK. It means someone can’t afford the basic essentials they need to eat, keep clean, and stay warm and dry.

The total number of destitute people in the UK, including UK citizens, is not currently measured by the government.

The study was carried out by experts at Heriot-Watt University with advice from a wide range of experts and took 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.

Researchers found 1,252,000 people were destitute and that four out of five of them were born in the UK. Young, single men were particularly likely to be destitute.

The most common causes were ill-health and disability, high costs of housing, unemployment and benefit sanctions.

People who had experienced destitution said that they felt ‘demeaned’, ‘degraded’ and ‘humiliated’ by having to get family, friends or charities to provide basics like food and toiletries.

Destitute parents often went without things so that they could provide more for their children. Many felt that destitution had a negative impact on their relationships with their children and with other family and friends, leading to social isolation. Destitution took a toll on many people’s mental health, and some reported physical health problems.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“It is simply unacceptable to see such levels of severe poverty in our country in the 21st Century.

“Government, businesses and communities need to work together to provide better emergency support, make basic essentials more affordable and create better jobs if we are to end destitution in the UK.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, director of the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Environment and Real Estate (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University, and one of the authors of the report, said:

“Destitution takes a huge toll on people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. The people we spoke to told us they felt humiliated that they couldn’t afford basic essentials without help.”