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Poverty in the UK

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What is poverty in the UK? Find out what poverty in the UK looks like in 2024. 

Poverty is about having less than you need to thrive in the community and wider society you live in. Each person has a different perspective on the poverty level but ultimately if it’s a constant struggle to get access to the key things required to live like food and shelter, it could be an indicator of poverty.

Poverty is defined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as:

When a person’s resources fall far below their minimum needs, including the need to take part in society. For people living in poverty, this means facing daily financial uncertainty that strips them of dignity, choices, and prevents them from being able to fully participate in society. 

What are the drivers and effects of UK poverty?

Drivers of poverty

Public services at breaking point

The systems and services we all rely upon are struggling to cope with the needs of society

Mental and physical ill-health

The higher costs associated with long-term health problems and disability can push households into poverty

Soaring living costs

The cost of basic essentials such as heating, lighting, food, fuel and housing are beyond reach for many low-income households

Limited pay and skills progression

Low income and lack of progression within careers can contribute to people being locked into poverty

Systemic inequality

Inequalities are things that are not applied fairly across society that can keep poverty levels & debt high; some inequalities in our society include racism, sexism, ableism, classism — they can stop positive opportunities for all

Financial resilience

This looks at ability, the skills & knowledge to confidently handle money matters both today and tomorrow

Relational resilience

The limited access to social networks with right tools and confidence to go through the changes & challenges of life with family, friends and the local community

Effects of poverty

These are some of the many effects that poverty can have.

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Silent suffering

Over one million UK adults considered or attempted suicide as a way out of their situation

See report for more

A heavy burden

50% of UK adults report that their debt repayment has some element of negative effect on them

See report for more

A person with a fuzzy squizzle next to their head, representing thoughts, emotions, or mental health.

Sleepless nights

12% of UK adults are losing sleep more often than once a week worrying about finances

See our national polling research

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Empty plates

17% of UK adults have skipped meals as often as once a month as a result of the cost of living crisis

See document for more

Write to your local prospective parliamentary candidates to ask crucial questions and make sure poverty is at the forefront of their minds ahead of the general election.

Learn more

Deprived of the essentials

According to a recent YouGov poll commissioned by CAP, people in the UK are going without essentials due to low incomes and high costs.

42% 
of UK adults have limited their electricity or gas use as often as once a month to cope with the rising cost of living. 
A bowl of hot food
17% 
of UK adults have skipped meals as often as once a month as a result of unaffordable/​high cost of living. 

Borrowing to survive

People are having to turn to credit because they do not have enough to cover the costs of essentials. 5% of UK adults (2.8m people) report that they have borrowed money in order to pay for household bills.

A person with a fuzzy squizzle next to their head, representing thoughts, emotions, or mental health.
1 in 10 
UK adults are losing sleep more often than once a week worrying about finances. 
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Over 1 million 
UK adults have considered or attempted suicide as a way out of their debt situation. 

Why do people end up in problem debt?

Every year, CAP produces research from our own debt services, which looks at the different drivers of poverty and the impact on the people we serve.

In our most recent report, we discovered that the primary reasons for debt crisis for people seeking debt help in 2024 were:

A person with a fuzzy squizzle next to their head, representing thoughts, emotions, or mental health.
23% 
Mental ill-health 
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18% 
Low income 
11% 
Relationship breakdown 

Spiralling impacts

Woman stood facing the camera

At the worst, I was £28,000 in debt, including money owed for Council Tax, water, gas and electricity. It was like carrying a weight around on my shoulders constantly. The lowest point was when my 16-year-old rang me at work to say there was an enforcement agent at our front door. I broke down. 

Julie 

I was apprehensive about picking up the phone to CAP at first because I didn’t think they’d be able to help me. I didn’t think anyone would be able to help me. But they did.’

My local CAP Debt Coach, Hannah, came round to my house. She phoned the debt collectors and asked for everything to be put on hold. I could finally take a breath. She was there if I needed any support whatsoever.’

I believe there is hope for a future where poverty doesn’t exist and people can live their lives free from the despair it causes, if we all do our bit. For me, that’s speaking out, sharing my journey and showing the reality of life in poverty in the UK.’

A man outside, looking reflective

Everything about that time in debt was distressing. I had so much fear, it was palpable. I’d freeze in panic at the sound of a letter coming through the letterbox, knowing that it was only going to be more bad news, more threatening letters and more demands for money that I simply didn’t have.’ 

Jim 

To go from a lively, bustling family home to a tiny, lonely flat, from a healthy bank balance to tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt – it affected my mental health massively. I just wanted to draw the curtains and hide away in the dark.’

The local Debt Coach, Ruth, said to me, From this day forward, you are not alone’ – and that one sentence lifted a weight off my shoulders. It felt like CAP was a hand that had been extended towards me, reaching out to me to help me and comfort me.’

From then on, I could send any demanding letters straight on to CAP to deal with, and if the creditors called I could simply say, I’m working with CAP” and they’d back off.’

When an advisor from CAP called me to confirm that I was now debt free, it felt surreal. I couldn’t believe I’d been given this opportunity to start again. All of that fear, worry and shame had gone.’

A man in stepping out of his front door to go to work, closing the door behind him

When I was laid off work during the pandemic, everything spiralled out of control. I was relying on Universal Credit to pay my bills and buy food. However, I had debts being deducted from my payments and wasn’t left with enough to cover my rent. I thought I was going to lose my house. 

James 

I locked myself away in the house. I’d go to the job centre, and I’d go to my mum’s for tea as I couldn’t afford food or heating. Other than that, I didn’t go anywhere for 18 months.’

CAP was able to stop the bailiffs coming within the first 24 hours. It lifted my whole life straight away. I was no longer worrying about who was going to knock on the door.’

Getting things sorted with my finances gave me the self-confidence boost to get back into work. I also stopped shutting myself away. Now I know who to call if I’m struggling, I’m working and I’m getting married.’

A woman resting her chin on her hand

My partner and I were in a dark, dark place. I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. We had debt, bailiffs at the door, illness in the family. We really were at the end of our tether. 

Paula 

When you’re earning a wage and off sick, you wouldn’t expect to have to go to a foodbank. At one point we had £60 to live on for a month whilst going through chemotherapy.’

When I spoke to CAP on the phone, the operator was so lovely, very professional, very

calming. I felt like I was being treated with respect, like a human, not a number. Like she really appreciated me as a person rather than seeing me as a figure or a problem.’

Since getting involved with our local church, finding Jesus, believing, family life is just happier. I didn’t think my partner and I were going to survive, let alone get married. It all made us stop and appreciate what we’ve got – what God has given us.’

CAP is here to help

CAP works hard to support people in financial difficulty, through free FCA authorised debt advice, money management courses, job clubs, and life skills groups. But we are seeing more and more people seeking help with really challenging situations. More people are needing emergency support and facing deficit budgets, where their income doesn’t cover their essential costs.

A bowl of hot food
1,339
people received phone top-ups, food or fuel vouchers from CAP in 2023 
4,403
people received debt advice from CAP in 2023 
£11,554
was the average amount of household debt owed by CAP’s clients 

We want to see people living free from debt, their lives transformed and an end to UK poverty once and for all. That’s why, alongside providing support through our practical services, we commission research into the realities of poverty. We use this to inform decision-makers of the changes that could help address the systems and structures that are pushing people into poverty and keeping them trapped there.

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Poverty destroys lives. It robs people of joy, hope and opportunities. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Hear about how we support people experiencing debt and poverty.

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Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'
Ruth, Co-Debt Centre Manager

We urgently need your support to reach every person in poverty.

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'