Skip to main content
Food bank worker sorting a bread delivery.

Deep poverty and destitution

Insight into severe hardship and policies to tackle it, including destitution, deep poverty and going without the essentials.

Our mission

Everyone in our country should be able to at least afford life’s basic essentials, such as enough food and household bills. Having these essentials provides a foundation for people to live with dignity and build a better life.

JRF recognises that addressing hardship is essential to economic security, and is:

  • collaborating with The Trussell Trust on the Essentials Guarantee campaign (calling on UK political party leaders to support an Essentials Guarantee within Universal Credit to ensure, at a minimum, it always enables people to afford life’s essentials) alongside developing other national policy recommendations to design out hardship
  • looking at what can be done locally (for example, building community power and emergency crisis support) to protect people from hardship and help them thrive


3.8 million people (1 million of them children) experienced destitution, the most severe form of hardship, at some point in 2022. This means people are unable to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

The cost of living crisis has highlighted these experiences, but they are not new. Poverty has been deepening for more than a decade and the number of people experiencing destitution has worryingly more than doubled between 2017 and 2022.

The most at risk of destitution are:

  • single-adult households
  • disabled people
  • lone parents
  • large families
  • migrants
  • black people

Growing hardship

Not enough food. Can’t heat the house. No bed. Can’t pay the rent. Can’t afford the bus fare to go into town. Can’t afford to have a friend over for tea. Living in fear of the washing machine or fridge breaking down. Unable to sleep because of the stress and worry. These experiences have become all too common in our country.

Experiencing such hardship impacts people’s physical health, mental health and social connections. It also makes it harder for children to learn and thrive. These consequences increase the cost and demand on our public services and prevent people from realising their potential.

Social, emotional and psychological impact

Income isn’t always enough to avoid hardship. Poverty has social, emotional and psychological aspects. Being able to find connection, purpose, and the right help at the right time are vital to protecting people from hardship.

In a country like ours we should all be protected from hardship. That means:

  • having a financial safety net that covers essentials, so everyone can afford them without having to rely on charity
  • having a social safety net that provides somewhere and someone to turn to in times of need and financial crisis
  • making protection available to everyone (it shouldn’t matter who you are or where you come from, everyone should be protected from hardship)
  • having an economy that offers secure and well-paid jobs as well as a housing market that provides enough affordable housing