Destitution in the UK has established the first firm evidence base on the scale, causes, distribution and experiences of people living in destitution in this country.

The first major study, undertaken by I-SPHERE on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2016,  defined an entirely new research agenda.

In 2018 our second report was published, followed by the 3rd major study in 2020.

Key Findings

Our work has established the definition of destitution: People who have lacked two or more of 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) and
  • Basic toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush), or
  • Had an income that was so low, and no savings, so that they would be likely to lack these essentials in the immediate future.

Our third major destitution study found more than a million UK households experienced destitution at some point in 2019. These households contained 2.4 million people  (a 54% increase since 2017 ) and included 550,000 children. 

Our interviews with people living in destitution during COVID 19 also found that for many the pressures brought about by the pandemic exacerbated the difficulties they were already facing.

You can find full details of our reports and JRF policy recommendations at Destitution in the UK 2020 | JRF


Destitution in the UK is informing policy and practice across the UK and beyond.

I-SPHERE’s research on destitution has given the research, policy and advocacy community for the first time the tools for understanding the extent of this serious problem across the UK. Combining large-scale primary quantitative evidence with in-depth qualitative insights and the innovative use of secondary data has provided a robust basis for understanding causes and, therefore, for developing practical areas for solutions.

Chris Goulden Deputy director, Policy and Research, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

The reports have also attracted significant media coverage and have been debated in Parliament.