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More than a million people in the UK are living in destitution

Posted 28 April 2016

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According to a new study, there are large numbers of people classed as destitute and living in extreme poverty in Britain.

Over one million people in the UK are classed as destitute and cannot afford to eat, clean or stay warm and dry.

That’s the worrying finding of a new study by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent organisation that aims to reduce poverty and inspire social change.



What is destitution?

Destitution is the term we use to describe extreme poverty – the type of situation where someone cannot support themselves financially. 

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation classed people as destitute if they were reliant on an extremely low weekly income after housing costs had been deducted – equivalent to £70 for an adult and £140 for a couple with children. 

What did the research say?

According to the research:

• 184,500 people are reliant on charities for essentials, like food, clothes and shelter

• three-quarters of destitute people have gone without meals because they can’t afford food

• over half are unable to heat their homes

• there are more destitute people in former industrial areas, like the north-west and north-east of England, South Wales and Northern Ireland. 

What is the cause of destitution?

So, what’s the most common cause of destitution? It seems not being able to afford debt repayments, specifically council tax, as well as not being able to afford rent, or having benefits stopped or delayed are the biggest triggers. 

Interviews with some of the people affected revealed that 30% had experienced benefits sanctions. This means that, for whatever reason, their benefits had been temporarily stopped or reduced because they had not followed the conditions set for those benefits. 

Help with council tax

You may be entitled to a reduction in your council tax bill if you’re on benefits or a low income. Exactly how much is knocked off your bill depends on where you live, your circumstances, your income and whether you have dependents living with you. Depending on your own situation, it could be reduced by up to 100%. 

Have a look at this Government page to find out how to apply. 

Benefits sanctions

In 2015, The New Policy Institute reported an increase in benefits sanctions in the UK and identified this financial shock as one of the leading causes of destitution. 

When you claim benefits, you will have signed a document called a Claimant Commitment, which outlines everything you have to do to receive that benefit. To avoid being subject to benefit sanctions, it’s really important that you understand and stick to these rules and keep track of the fact that you’ve done so. 

For more information on benefits sanctions, and how to challenge them, click here

Debt problems

If you are experiencing severe cash-flow problems and you think that your unsecured debts are the root cause of this, there is help out there. 

There are debt solutions available that can help people in a range of different circumstances. If you want to speak to an expert who can explain your options, contact one of our debt advisors using the options on the left. There’s also a lot of general money help available from The Money Advice Service. 

The important thing to remember is that if you are destitute, it is not the end of the road – and you don’t have to go it alone. There is advice and support out there that can help you get out of this situation and back on track.


by Christine Walsh

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.