A new study has shown that 1.25 million people in the UK are classed as living in destitution. Families affected by extreme poverty are unable to afford basic essentials such as food, hygiene and protection from harsh weather conditions, with the figure including over 300,000 children.
The study, titled 'Destitution in the UK' and conducted by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a British social policy research and development charity, found that there was previously no government data regarding the number of destitute people and families in the UK.
Following consultations with over 50 experts, and a survey of 2,000 adults, researchers at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University defined destitution as a situation when people lacked two or more of the six basic requirements – food, shelter, clothing and footwear, heating, lighting and toiletries - within a one month period.
The week-long survey in 2015 involved people who visited voluntary sector crisis services - such as foodbanks, debt advice charities, homelessness agencies, and specialist services for migrants - across 9 areas of the UK. They then combined that data with national statistics, in order to calculate the number of people living in destitution across the year.
The research showed that 668,000 households, comprising 1,252,000 people - with 312,000 of them children - fell into destitution in 2015, with some London boroughs, former industrial areas of the North of England and economically deprived coastal towns displaying the highest levels of destitution. Of those surveyed, 79% - or 4 out of 5 people - were born in the UK.
People experiencing severe poverty told researchers that they felt "demeaned, degraded and humiliated" for depending on charitable organisations, friends or family for basic needs like food, clothes and toiletries. The report also pointed out that extra costs - such as illness and disability, high costs of housing and other essential bills, unemployment, debt repayment, and a financial shock like a benefit sanction or delay - as the most common causes for people falling into extreme poverty.
In a statement on the findings, JRF's media officer, Rachel Case, said that "Young, single people, particularly men, are more likely to be destitute, but there are considerable numbers of families living in destitution There is no single cause, but most people had been living in poverty for a considerable period of time before tipping into destitution."
"The most common [causes] were debts from social fund loans and benefit overpayments owed to DWP [Department for Work and Pensions], council tax arrears owed to local councils, rent arrears, and debts to utility companies," Case continued in summary of the study's findings.
Case also pointed out that data included "does not include people who only got help from their local council or Government programmes or those who did not seek help, meaning that the total number of destitute people is likely to be significantly higher."