Successive Conservative governments have presided over a 148% increase in destitution since 2017. Destitution is classed as the most severe form of poverty – in which one can’t afford even life’s essentials like food, heating, and the ability to keep clean. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which conducted the research, has slammed the findings as “shameful“. It’s also clear what one of the biggest problems is: the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Destitution: a staggering increase
The JRF describes destitution as being one of two things:
1. Lack of access to at least two of six items needed to meet your most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed (shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing and footwear, and basic toiletries) because you cannot afford them.
2. Extremely low or no income indicating that you cannot afford the items described above.
Since the JRF’s last report, the situation has worsened. The think tank found that, in 2022, 3.8 million people were destitute at some point – up 61% since 2019. This figure includes around one million children, up 88% since 2019.
However, most shockingly, these figures represent a 148% increase in overall destitution since 2017, and a 186% increase for children. Looking at the detail, the JRF found that it was marginalised communities that successive governments had been failing the most.
Marginalised communities suffering the most
The rate of destitution among black, black British, Caribbean or African-led households in the UK is three times their population share. White-led households are underrepresented in the destitute population.
There appears to be a strong interaction between ethnicity and migration. For black, Asian and other ethnicities, a clear majority of destitute respondents were also migrants (74%, 84% and 80% respectively).
The JRF also found that 72% of destitute people were reliant on benefits for their main source of income. 35% had been reliant on foodbanks in the month before the JRF performed its survey.
The DWP: the main driver of destitution
The JRF was very clear what the issues were with the DWP and benefits.
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.
As the Canary previously reported, the DWP’s Universal Credit increases in recent years were barely increases at all. In fact, they haven’t even taken the benefit back to its real-terms 2019 value.
All of this is unlikely to improve any time soon. The DWP is already considering a real-terms cut to benefits next April. It’s failing to properly tackle the rising price of everything (inflation). So, the next time the JRF reports on destitution, the government will have likely made it worse again.
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