Rochdale has one of the highest destitution rates in England, new figures show

Date published: 15 November 2023

Rochdale has one of the highest destitution rates in England, the latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's new report, 'Destitution in the UK 2023' show.

The report – Destitution in the UK 2023 – highlights an alarming rise of destitution in the UK. The report finds that 3.8 million people in the UK are currently living in destitution, defined as going without the essentials we all need to eat, stay warm and dry.

This includes around one million children – an 88% increase since 2019.

The number of households experiencing destitution in the UK has more than doubled in the last five years – up from 1,550,000 in 2017, with Rochdale having the 25th highest destitution rate in the country.

destitution rate in the country.

Elsewhere in Greater Manchester, Manchester has the second highest rate, whilst Salford and Oldham are also among the areas with the highest destitution levels: Salford is 10th and Oldham 28th.

The report says people living on low incomes in the UK were in an already vulnerable position before spiralling inflation in 2022 and 2023 caused price hikes in energy, food and other basic necessities that have hit poorer households hardest.

It adds that Universal Credit standard allowances for many working-age people now fail to clear even the ‘extremely low income’ threshold needed to escape destitution.

The largest percentage increase since 2019 was in destitute migrant households (with no complex needs), which increased by 95%, as compared with rises of 63% and 33% for the UK-other and complex-needs groups respectively.

More than a quarter of destitute households had no income at all and more than half had an income of £84 per week or less. Migrant destitute households were the most likely to report no or a very low income. The most common source of income for destitute households was social security benefits, but only half of destitute migrants were in receipt of benefits.

The report also said levels of working-age benefits are “now demonstrably inadequate,” noting people felt the rise in Universal Credit “made little difference to them because it was ‘swallowed up’ by the rapidly increasing costs of essentials.”

Regarding disability benefits, the process was described as “long and arduous” which “is especially problematic when it came to accessing Personal Independence Payment (PIP).”

Problematic debt was said to be “again a crushing burden” with consumer debt, including credit cards and catalogue debt, mainly affected those who had been in work relatively recently.

However, housing and utilities-related debts still predominated, affecting half the qualitative sample. This mainly involved arrears for water, gas and electricity, but some also had Council Tax debts and rent arrears, and a small number had mortgage arrears.

The report also detailed the six essentials which destitute households lacked in – namely, food, heating, clothes, toiletries, lighting and shelter (rough sleeping).

As in previous studies, food was the most common lack in 2022. For the first time, however, the second greatest lack was heating, followed by clothes and toiletries, with lighting and shelter the least likely items lacked. In all, 86% of destitute households lacked one or more of the six essentials, 76% lacked two or more and 37% lacked four or more.

The report said: “Particularly shocking in this year’s qualitative interviews was the extent to which parents reported eating only one meal a day in order that their children had a more adequate diet.

“Those subsisting on one meal a day included a number of interviewees who were in paid work.

“More than half of destitute respondents reported lacking clothing or footwear suitable for the weather and around a half lacked basic toiletries. It was clear from across virtually all of the qualitative interviews that new clothing and footwear were essential items that people simply did not buy at all, at least not for the adults in the household, while interviewees very often relied on food banks for toiletries and other household items.”

Those with complex needs were more likely to experience a lack of key essentials, although not in the case of heating and lighting. The report says this reflects most of the group not having their own accommodation and thus not paying separately for these requirements.

Meantime, The Trussell Trust, the largest network of food banks in the UK, distributed close to 3 million emergency food parcels in 2022/23 – the highest annual number ever and an increase of 37% from the previous year.

The report said the reliance on foodbanks was “a stand-out finding from this year’s study.”

Concluding the report, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recommended an “urgent need for action” including addressing the inadequacy of the social security system, introducing an ‘essentials guarantee’ into Universal Credit so that incomes do not fall below the amount needed for day-to-day essentials.

It also recommended reforming benefit sanctions, a cap on debt reductions from benefits, emergency financial assistance on a ‘cash first’ basis, action on long waits for disability benefits support, addressing housing problems, and access to free, high-quality debt, housing, welfare and legal advice, including specialist advice for migrants with a disputed immigration status.

Another recommendation included lifting the ban on asylum seekers working, or reduce the wait to six months, and allow access to an unrestricted list of occupations so asylum seekers could support themselves and ease pressure on public finances.

In response to the report, Greater Manchester Poverty Action’s chief executive, Graham Whitham, said: “It is a disgrace that 3.8 million people in the UK are experiencing destitution – unable to meet their most basic human needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

“Across Greater Manchester, we have a strong network of local authorities and voluntary and community organisations working hard to try to ensure our communities have the essentials they need. But many of the main drivers to tackle destitution lie within central government – and it is absolutely vital that they act immediately to protect and support our poorest households.

“We urgently need a robust plan for ending poverty in the UK, so that everyone can not only have the basics they need to survive, but also a good quality of life. At the heart of this needs to be an Essentials Guarantee in Universal Credit that ensures everyone, as a bare minimum, has the money they need to afford food and other household bills.”

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