The UK has seen a “shameful increase” in destitution, though Scotland has had “by far the lowest” rise in the numbers suffering from this, a new report has found.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that across the UK, there were an estimated 3.8 million people suffering from destitution – with this including more than one million children.
According to the report, rising levels of destitution mean almost two-and-a-half times as many people are suffering as there were in 2017, with nearly three times as many youngsters affected.
Rates of destitution – where people are not able to afford to meet their basic needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed – were highest in the London borough of Newham, it found.
While Glasgow City Council was ranked 26th in the 30 local authorities with the worst rates of destitution, it had dropped 16 places from the previous report in 2019.
The report found that at a regional level, London had the highest destitution levels in 2022, followed by the North East and the North West of England, and then the West Midlands.
The regions in the south of England had the lowest rates of destitution, with both Wales and Scotland having rates comparable with the Midlands.
While destitution had increased in all regions of the UK over the period 2019 to 2022, the report found Scotland’s position had improved “with by far the lowest increase since 2019”.
It added: “This may be indicative of the growing divergence in welfare benefits policies in Scotland, notably the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment.”
The benefit, which was introduced in Scotland in 2021, gives £25 per child under 16 a week to eligible low-income families.
The report, the fourth in a series by the JRF, with research done by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, found overall “there has been a shameful increase in the level of destitution in the UK”.
It highlighted the “growing number of people struggling to afford to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed”, insisting there was now an “urgent need for action”.
Stating that the problem has “been increasing at an alarming rate since 2017” the report added: “Around 1.8 million households were destitute in the UK at some point over the course of 2022.
“These households contained around 3.8 million people, of whom around a million were children.”
It found that as in previous studies, food was the most common essential that people struggling with destitution lacked in 2022.
But with energy bills having risen rapidly, heating was the second most common thing for people to struggle with, followed by clothes and toiletries.
The report called on the UK Government to introduce an “Essentials Guarantee” into Universal Credit payments, ensuring that the basic amount people receive can cover all basic needs “such as food, energy, toiletries and cleaning products”.
Doing this “would have a significant impact on destitution”, the report said.
However, Chris Birt, associate director for the JRF in Scotland said governments at both Holyrood and Westminster needed to “step up” to deal with the problem.
He stated: “The UK is a country with dramatically increasing destitution, where millions of people can’t afford heating or can’t afford the basic essentials like clothes or food. In a country this wealthy, that is outrageous.
“But this needn’t be the case, destitution in Scotland is rising much more slowly than in other parts of the UK with the Scottish Child Payment and local welfare support offering some protection.
“Despite this, there is no cause for celebration when destitution numbers aren’t falling.”
Mr Birt continued: “It is time for both governments to step up to this challenge that years of failed government policy have caused.
“This is particularly acute for the UK Government and all the parties that are bidding to run it after the next election – they must come through for the Scottish people by embracing the Essentials Guarantee.
“The Scottish Government can also do more and will need to show it is willing to turn the tide on destitution in its forthcoming budget.”
Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said that this year and last year the Scottish Government had “allocated almost £3bn to support policies to tackle poverty and to protect people as far as possible during the cost-of-living crisis, especially those are most impacted”.
She added that as of the end of June, the Scottish Child Payment was providing 316,000 children with support worth £25 per week, with the Scottish Government also making £83.7m available through Discretionary Housing Payments to “mitigate UK government welfare cuts”.
Ms Somerville said: “We estimate that 90,000 fewer children will live in relative and absolute poverty this year as a result of our policies, with poverty levels nine percentage points lower than they would have otherwise been.”
She added: “We continue to urge the UK Government to introduce an Essentials Guarantee to ensure people can afford life’s essentials and ensure vulnerable people are properly supported.”
The UK Government has been contacted for comment.
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