The scale of destitution among households living in the UK increased by around 35 per cent between 2017 and 2019, and is expected to worsen as the coronavirus pandemic goes on.
An extensive research report looking at these issues has been published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which is calling for the UK government and devolved national governments to take action to prevent more people from falling into dire financial circumstances.
It is estimated that around a million households were destitute and unable to cover their most essential costs at some point during 2019, which includes more than half a million children.
The figures draw on data reflecting the numbers of people who reach out to crisis services for help and cannot afford to pay for essentials including food, clothing and basic toiletries.
For many households, engaging with the benefits system and applying for Universal Credit has not been enough to keep them from becoming destitute and financially bereft.
The recently introduced £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit payments has had a major impact in helping struggling households to get by but it remains unclear whether that uplift will be sustained beyond April 2021.
Problem debt and arrears on essential bills are described by the JRF as being “extremely common” among destitute households, with the Covid crisis having exacerbated these issues in recent months.
“The temporary halting of most debt-related deductions from social security benefits during the lockdown was vital in easing the pressure on many destitute households,” the JRF’s report notes.
“However, for some interviewees who had lost paid work during the lockdown, the sudden drop in income made pre-existing debts even harder to manage.”
Another issue highlighted by the JRF’s research is that many people have found themselves destitute despite being in work because they were unable to earn enough money each week to cover their costs consistently.
The charity behind the research has said that for a lot of people the effect of the pandemic has been to worsen an already difficult and precarious financial situation.
Looking to the future, the JRF has called for governments to step in urgently to deliver “more sustained efforts to keep afloat people who are already struggling” and to help “turn back the rising tide of destitution”.
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