Published On: 25 October 2023Tags: , ,

A comprehensive study on destitution in the UK by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has unveiled deeply troubling statistics:

  • approximately 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022, including around one million children;
  • this is almost two-and-a-half times the number of people in 2017, and nearly triple the number of children.


Destitution, defined as the inability to afford basic essentials such as food, shelter, heating, and sanitation, has reached unprecedented levels in the UK.

The profound consequences of this alarming increase extend to health, mental well-being, and prospects of affected individuals. It places an additional burden on already strained public services, making the situation even more critical.


Key findings:

  • The rate of destitution among black-led households was three times their population share.
  • For Black, Asian and other ethnicities, a clear majority of destitute respondents were also migrants.
  • A fifth of destitute respondents with complex needs were Black, which is nearly five times their general population share in England and Wales.
  • Whilst the majority of destitution is among the UK born, migrant destitution is growing rapidly, especially since 2019. It is estimated that 1.1million migrants, including over 330,000 children now live here in destitution.
  • The risk of being destitute is estimated to be 35% higher among migrant families in the UK, than the average. This is partly due to a lack of access to the mainstream welfare safety net.
  • For those in the most severe group – those with extremely low or no income, migrants made up the largest group, with 59% of households having less than £60 per week to live on after housing costs and 38% having no income at all.

One of the most striking findings is that nearly three-quarters of individuals experiencing destitution were already in receipt of social security payments, indicating the inadequacy of the existing benefits system. Despite sporadic government support, initially during the pandemic and later to alleviate the rising cost of living, the level of destitution continues to escalate.


The study’s key recommendations include:

1. Essentials Guarantee: Implementing a Universal Credit ‘Essentials Guarantee’ to ensure every individual receives a minimum level of support that covers essential needs such as food and household expenses. An independent process would determine this level, based on the actual cost of necessities. Universal Credit’s basic rate should be adjusted to meet or exceed this minimum, and deductions should not reduce support below this threshold.

2. Social Security Reforms: Undertaking broader reforms to the social security system, which include lowering the limit on deductions from benefits used to repay debts, reforming sanctions to prevent people from being left with no or extremely low income, and ensuring that individuals can access the disability benefits to which they are entitled.

3. Emergency Financial Assistance: Ensuring the availability of cash-first emergency financial assistance in all areas, in addition to offering free and impartial advice services to address the financial, benefit, and housing issues that lead to destitution.

4. Inclusive Support: Enabling all members of the community to access emergency aid, irrespective of their ‘no recourse to public funds’ status. Local authorities, charities, independent funders, and housing providers should collaborate to prevent destitution and homelessness among individuals with limited entitlements.

This study underscores the pressing need for immediate, comprehensive, and coordinated efforts to combat destitution in the UK. The growing numbers of individuals and children facing this crisis call for swift action and reform to ensure that every person in the UK has access to the most basic necessities for a dignified life.

Read the summary report here and full report here.