Destitution in the UK 2023

I-SPHEREs report for JRF published today, reveals a shameful increase in the level of destitution in the UK. The number of people experiencing destitution increased by 61% from 2019 to 2022, with an even larger increase in the number of children experiencing destitution.

A combination of extremely low incomes, a threadbare social security system, the increasing cost of basic essentials and high levels of debt has led to this rapid increase.

The report, Destitution in the UK 2023, is the fourth in a series from Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), undertaken in partnership with Kantar Public.

Play this animation to hear more about the findings and powerful quotes from our research with people experiencing destitution in the UK.

As a general election approaches, JRF is calling on all parties to make tackling destitution a priority and set out their plans to reverse the appalling rise in hardship.

Key findings:

  • Around 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022 – a 61% increase since 2019
  • Since 2017 the number of children experiencing destitution has almost tripled – an increase of 186%
  • Almost two thirds of people who experienced destitution in 2022 have a disability or chronic health problem
  • The social security system is not protecting people from destitution: 72% of those destitute are in receipt of benefits

People are considered destitute if they have not been able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed. This can be because they lack necessities like clothing, heating, shelter or food. It can also be because their income is so low they are unable to purchase these items.

Paul Kissack, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“A million children experienced destitution last year – a number that has almost doubled since 2019.  Across our country we are leaving families freezing in their homes or lacking basic necessities like food and clothing. Such severe hardship should have no place in the UK today – and the British public will not stand for suffering on this scale. 

“The Government is not helpless to act: it is choosing not to.  But turning the tide on destitution is an urgent moral mission, which speaks to our basic humanity as a country, and we need political leadership for that mission.  That is why we are calling for clear proposals from all political parties to address this challenge with the urgency it demands.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick said:

“This is the most comprehensive and detailed study of its type but having robust data on destitution is meaningless unless acted upon at the highest levels. The number of children living in destitution in this country has nearly trebled since 2017. This is morally reprehensible and must act as a stark wake up call to policymakers across the political spectrum.  No one of any age should be destitute in the UK today.

“To have these horrifying levels of destitution in a country like ours is a political choice. The scale of extreme material hardship we have uncovered reflects the state abdicating its responsibility to ensure that all members of our society are able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed without having to rely on charitable help. There must be immediate action from all levels of government to tackle this social emergency.”

With around 3.8 million people experiencing destitution in 2022, severe hardship is now commonplace. Around six in ten (2.3 million) are UK nationals without complex needs[i], with migrants and UK nationals with complex needs making up the remainder.[1]

72% of destitute households are in receipt of social security benefits. 56% report receiving income from Universal Credit.

Around 12% of households experiencing destitution in 2022 were Black, Black British, Caribbean or African-led, despite comprising only 4% of the population.  


The UK government should introduce an ‘Essentials Guarantee’ into Universal Credit, to ensure that everyone has a protected minimum amount of support to afford essentials like food and household bills. While working towards this, the UK government should lower the current limit on benefits deductions, reform sanctions so that people are not left with zero or extremely low income, and ensure that people can access the disability benefits they are entitled to.

Cash-first emergency financial assistance should be available in all areas, along with free and impartial advice services to address the crushing debt, benefits and housing issues that keep people destitute. This should also be available to people with ‘no recourse to public funds’.

[1] People with ‘complex needs’ are experiencing two or more of the following: homelessness, drug and/or alcohol problems, offending, domestic violence, or begging. ‘Migrants’ refers to people who were born outside the UK.

Read Destitution in the UK 2023, and our technical report is available here