JRF’s Destitution in the UK programme focuses on the very bottom of the poverty spectrum – those in the most extreme hardship. Over the last few years there has been growing discussion in the media about destitution, with public figures citing the rising use of food-banks as evidence of an increase. However, there has been remarkably little attention paid to whether there is any solid evidence about the extent of destitution in the UK, what causes it or whether it has changed over recent years.
JRF’s Destitution in the UK programme aims to provide this evidence, and this interim report by a team at Heriot-Watt University is the starting point, reviewing the literature and agreeing a definition of destitution. The definition was developed with experts from across the UK and a survey of 2,000 members of the public:
“People are destitute if they lacked two or more of these six essentials over the past month, because they cannot afford them:
- Shelter (have slept rough for one or more nights)
- Food (have had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days)
- Heating their home (have been unable to do this for five or more days)
- Lighting their home (have been unable to do this for five or more days)
- Clothing and footwear (appropriate for weather)
- Basic toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush)
People are also destitute if their income is so low that they are unable to purchase these essentials for themselves.”
A large majority of the public agree that being in this situation constitutes destitution.