Two million more UK families to be pushed into destitution due to Covid, study finds

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) finds “intensifying” levels of extreme poverty in the UK even before the pandemic and warns that a million more children are likely to fall into destitution.

The new study found that destitution levels in the UK are set to double due to the pandemic, meaning that more families are likely to struggle to stay warm, clean, clothed and fed.

The findings point to issues around Universal Credit, social security cuts, welfare reforms, unstable employment, and unaffordable debt as key reasons for the pre-pandemic rise in destitution in the UK.

Levels of extreme poverty in the UK had already increased by 54% between 2017 and 2019, with the outlook for struggling families looking increasingly precarious due to the Covid-driven recession, says the study.

JRF found that over half of those classed as destitute often lacked access to enough food, with a million households experiencing destitution at some point in 2019, roughly equating to 2.4 million people – including 550,000 children.

Northern areas of England were found to have the highest proportion of extreme poverty within the UK, with Middlesbrough seeing nearly 2% of its households classed as destitute.

The report recommends that the £20 increase in Universal Credit, introduced earlier this year to aid families through the pandemic, should remain in place beyond its current expiration date of March next year.

It also recommends changes to the Universal Credit advance loans system that currently allows people to receive a portion of their payments upfront before the end of the minimum five-week wait for their first universal credit instalment. The report found that the long wait coupled with having to repay their Universal Credit advance left many facing unaffordable repayments and drove them further into poverty.

Helen Barnard, Director of JRF, called the findings “appalling” and said that current systems were “not doing enough to protect people from destitution”.

She added: “Our social security system should act as an anchor to hold us steady when we’re pulled down by powerful currents like job loss, illness or relationship breakdown.

“No one in our society should be unable to afford to eat or keep clean and sheltered. We can and must do more.”

A government spokesperson said that ensuring “every child gets the best start in life is central to our efforts to level up opportunity across the country, which is why we have raised the living wage for all and boosted welfare support by billions, including £170m to help families stay warm and well-fed over Christmas.”

Read the full JRF report at www.jrf.org.uk/report/destitution-uk-2020

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