More than 1.5m people in Britain are living in destitution, shocking new figures show.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) analysis led to a call from Unite for the government to tackle severe poverty by urgently reforming the benefits system.
Around 1,550,000 people are suffering in “shameful” conditions, the JRF-commissioned research found, including 365,000 children.
Researchers from Heriot-Watt University, which carried out the study, found that the destitute were often going without food, heating or electricity at home, with some being forced to sleep rough.
JRF said the government’s welfare policies often create destitution “by design” and are leaving people without help when they need it most.
The charity highlighted benefit cuts, delays in payments, draconian debt recovery methods and the housing crisis as factors for pushing people into destitution.
Rowntree Foundation chief executive Rob Campbell said, “To be destitute doesn’t just mean getting by on very little, it’s losing the ability to keep a roof over your head, eat often enough, or afford warm clothes when it’s cold. You can’t keep yourself clean or put the lights on.
“This shouldn’t happen to anybody, let alone over one and a half million people in the UK.”
Although a fall in benefit sanctions between 2015 and 2017 has led to a reduction in extreme destitution, the introduction of the new all-in-one benefit system Universal Credit threatens to reverse the trend, the report said.
Heriot-Watt University professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick said, “The apparent higher levels of sanctions in Universal Credit are a sharp warning that destitution could increase again as the new benefit expands in the coming years.”
Head of Unite Community, Liane Groves, said it was “shocking” that in 21st Century Britain 1.5m people are destitute.
Groves said, “This is the direct result of the Tories inflicting eight years of austerity, dismantling the social safety set and encouraging a race to the bottom economy built on low wages and insecure work.
“As well as ending some of the root causes of in-work poverty such as zero hour contracts and bogus self-employment, the government must make the benefits system fit for purpose.”
Groves added, “In the short term, this means immediately halting the roll out of Universal Credit. With a sanctions rate 10 times higher than for Jobseeker’s Allowance, continuing the introduction of Universal Credit will just push more and more people into destitution.”