How many people are destitute in the UK?

3.8 million people in the United Kingdom experienced destitution in 2022, including 1 million children. This is according to the Destitution in the UK report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The number of people experiencing destitution has increased by two and half times since 2017. Three times as many children experienced destitution in 2022 compared to 2017.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation…

Destitution denotes the most severe form of material hardship. People are considered destitute if they have not been able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2023) Destitution in the UK 2023

The number of people experiencing destitution has increased since both 2019 and 2017.

The main items lacked by people facing destitution in 2023 were food (61%), heating (59%) and clothes (57%).

graphic showing items destitute people can't afford UK 2023

What kinds of people face destitution?

85% of people do not have complex needs, the vast majority are not homeless.

  • 75% of people experiencing destitution are in receipt of some kind of state benefit.
  • Single people are at highest risk of destitution. 60% of those experiencing destitution in 2022 were single.
  • Almost two thirds had a chronic health problem or disability
  • Black led households were three times more likely to experience destitution.

Three main causes of destitution

  • Inadequate benefits. The income threshold for Universal Credit simply doesn’t pay enough for people to meet their basic human needs.
  • Debt. Getting into debt can put people into destitution, trying to get out of debt can keep them there.
  • There is some evidence that Covid-19 was starting point which pushed more people into destitution. However, most people who are destitute in 2022 had been struggling before the pandemic!

Solutions to destitution

Many compassionate people would suggest we need an overhaul of the benefits system. Make sure that Universal Credit pays enough so that people are not destitute. Also we could make it easier for people to access disability payments (PIP) if they are entitled to it. Finally, we need to reform the way we allow people who get into debt to deal with it.

More left leaning sociologists such as Marxists might suggest we need deeper structural reform. We need something in place which makes work less precarious so fewer people are moving in and out of work, for example. Structural reform in terms of more social housing with cheap rent could also help the poorest.

The New Right, in contrast, would say this is precisely what needs to happen to encourage people off benefits.


This is a useful update to income and wealth inequalities. This research demonstrates that life is getting tougher for more people at the bottom end!

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