Project Summary – Destitution in the UK

Destitution in the UK  has established the first firm evidence base on the scale, causes, distribution and experiences of people living in destitution in this country.

The first major study, undertaken by I-SPHERE on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2016,  defined an entirely new research agenda. A comprehensive and challenging programme of work, it involved interviews with 50 key experts, a survey of 2,000 members of the public, analysis of over 40 statistical datasets, a survey of over 2,000 users of crisis services, and in-depth interviews with 80 destitute people.

In June 2018  the second report was published.  The project fieldwork comprised case studies of destitution in 16 locations across the UK, including a user survey of 103 crisis services, in-depth interviews with 41 people affected by destitution and secondary analysis of over 40 quantitative datasets.

Key Findings

Our work has established the definition of destitution:

People who have lacked two or more of six essentials over the past month, because they cannot afford them:

  • Shelter (have slept rough for one or more nights),
  • Food (have had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days),
  • Heating their home (have been unable to do this for five or more days),
  • Lighting their home (have been unable to do this for five or more days),
  • Clothing and footwear (appropriate for weather) and
  • Basic toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush), or
  • Had an income that was so low, and no savings, so that they would be likely to lack these essentials in the immediate future.

It identified that in 2017 : 1,550,000 people, including 365,000 children, experienced destitution in the UK.

It highlights people most at risk, routes in and out of destitution, the experiences of people living in destitution and provides recommendations to protect people from becoming destitute and support those living in destitution.


Destitution in the UK is informing policy and practice across the UK and beyond.

“I-SPHERE’s research on destitution has given the research, policy and advocacy community for the first time the tools for understanding the extent of this serious problem across the UK. Combining large-scale primary quantitative evidence with in-depth qualitative insights and the innovative use of secondary data has provided a robust basis for understanding causes and, therefore, for developing practical areas for solutions. The team’s grasp across the range of issues affecting destitution and complex needs is second-to-none and led to the development of an entire strand of the JRF strategy to solve poverty in the UK, published in 2016. Over 30 recommendations from the strategy were included across all the three main political party manifestos in the last UK election.” Chris Goulden Deputy director, Policy and Research, Joseph Rowntree Foundation:

The reports have also attracted significant media coverage.

To read more on our work on Destitution in the UK read our destitution summary 2018