Destitution in the UK 2020

Our colleagues at Heriot-Watt University have published their latest report on destitution in the UK, which makes grim reading, even before the effects of the pandemic. The biggest factor behind the increase from 2017 to 2019 was the rollout of Universal Credit, given the digital-by-default application process, the 5-week wait, and the extent of deductions for debt including advances from basic benefit payments when they came through. 

The key points are below and the report can be downloaded here.

Key points

• Across the UK, our best estimate is that the number of households experiencing destitution at any point during the year has increased by 35% between 2017 and 2019 (with a 23% increase in households experiencing destitution in the survey week if we look at services in both surveys). 

• Households experiencing destitution are also generally larger than in 2017 with more containing children, meaning the total number of people experiencing destitution at any point during the year rose by 54% and the number of children experiencing destitution rose by 52%. 

• More than a million UK households experienced destitution at some point in 2019. These households contained 2.4 million people, including 550,000 children. 

• Destitution levels are highest in the North East, London and the North West. 

• UK nationals account for almost three-quarters (72%) of the population identified as living in destitution but people who have migrated to the UK are over-represented among those experiencing destitution. 

• The majority of people living in destitution (81%) do not report complex needs (defined as experiencing two or more of homelessness, drug and alcohol problems, offending, domestic violence and begging). However, the rate of complex need is higher among people experiencing destitution compared to the general population. 

• COVID-19-related support measures provided some much-needed relief, but many interviewees found the pressures brought about by the pandemic exacerbated the difficulties they were already facing. Some struggled to access the support they required to meet their essential needs.

You might also be interested in earlier PSE research and a chapter in the Bramley & Bailey edited Policy Press book published in 2018, about destitution which was based on the original 2015 study. 

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Publication date: 
Dec 9 2020