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Left destitute
by debt


Left destitute by debt

To be destitute is to be unable to afford the absolute essentials, such as food, a place to live with heating and lighting, and basic household items like toiletries or a cooker. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that there are around 1.5 million people in the UK living in destitution right now. This paper highlights the problems being faced by people experiencing destitution and struggling to keep their heads above water, and offers recommendations that can help them stay afloat.

Key findings

From a survey of 1,259 CAP Debt Help clients we found that 32% of CAP clients surveyed experienced destitution while in financial difficulty:

  • Destitution is most widespread amongst Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants.
  • Food and heat are most frequently compromised by families experiencing destitution. More than a third (37%) of households who experienced destitution also lived without lighting at least once a week.
  • Half of those in destitute households are in rent or mortgage arrears and face the risk of homelessness. 53% had taken out credit to pay a bill or another debt and a third were repaying a benefit overpayment.
  • Almost all of those who had experienced destitution said debt had made their health worse. 69% said being in debt had caused a new mental health problem.
  • 95% of those in destitute households experienced social isolation when in debt.


We need to look again at UK poverty and prioritise solutions to ensure no one is left destitute. In particular:

  • Repayments for debts owed to local and central government must be set based on affordability. 
  • Housing Benefit and the Housing Element of Universal Credit need to cover claimants full rent and under 25s should be entitled to the same rate of benefits as over 25s in the same circumstances
  • Benefit rates to increase in line with a price index that takes into account the cost pressures on low income households
  • Availability of no and low-cost credit for low income households is needed that is quick and easy to access

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