Income and Poverty

Preventing destitution: Policy and practice in the UK

Commissioned by: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation

  • Published 7th Jun 2018
  • Authors: Karen Barker, , Carla Ayrton, , Issy Petrie, , Adam Tinson,
  • Category: Income and Poverty

The research for this report explored how the policy and practice of both public and third sector organisations at the local, county and national levels could prevent destitution among UK-born people without complex needs. It involved 63 interviews with frontline professionals and volunteers from 38 public and third sector organisations in six case study areas: Fife, Hartlepool, Kirklees, Lewes, Newham and Swansea.

This research reveals two main drivers into destitution:

    • chronic factors, which weaken financial resilience and increase vulnerability to destitution these include low pay, insecure employment, inflation and the falling value of benefits.
    • acute factors, or ‘triggers’, which tip vulnerable people into destitution – these include sanctions, waiting times for Universal Credit and the inability to access disability benefits.

Debt to public bodies and high-cost debt are common types of debt for people at risk of
destitution. Debt can sap financial resilience and high debt repayments can also trigger destitution.
Remedial responses to destitution address the underlying problem and enable people to escape
destitution, such as lowering debt repayments or enabling access to increased benefits. Palliative
responses treat the symptoms of destitution, such as emergency energy vouchers or food aid.
• Policy and practice solutions to prevent destitution need to strengthen local palliative responses and reform local practice so that responses are remedial too. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and local authority procedures must be reformed to address the chronic and acute drivers of destitution.