As Boris Johnson flies out from RAF Northolt (‘chocks away’) to indulge in some weird performative act, over two million people in Brexit Britain are destitute (‘Half a million kids destitute in Britain before coronavirus crisis hit – The shocking scale of destitution is laid bare in a report by Heriot-Watt University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation‘).
As our Prime Minister travels for dinner in Brussels with Ursula von der Leyen and plays with peoples livelihoods for an act of political pantomime the Joseph Rowntree Foundation tells us: “Our new research shows deeply concerning figures on destitution in the UK, with around 2.4 million people having experienced destitution in 2019, a 54% increase since 2017.”
54% increase in three years.
The reports definition of destitution was as follows. People are destitute if: EITHER:
(a) They have lacked two or more of the following six essential items over the past month, because they cannot afford them:
• shelter (they have slept rough for one or more nights)
• food (they have had fewer than two meals a day for two or more days)
• heating their home (they have been unable to heat their home for five or more days)
• lighting their home (they have been unable to light their home for five or more days)
• clothing and footwear (appropriate for the weather)
• basic toiletries (such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste and a toothbrush).
(b) Their income is so extremely low that they are unable to purchase these essentials for themselves.
The report estimated that: “the total number of destitute households in the UK in touch with voluntary sector crisis services (or local welfare funds) in a representative week in 2019 was 191,000. These households contained 430,000 people, of whom 99,000 were children. The total number of households experiencing destitution in the UK at some point in 2019, and using these services, is estimated to be 1,062,000, involving 2,388,000 people, of whom 552,000 were children. On this basis, the number of households experiencing destitution at some point in 2019 is estimated to have increased by 35% since 2017, and the number of people and children experiencing destitution has increased by 52% and 54% respectively.”
What’s driving this? It won’t come as any surprise that factors likely to have been important in destitution trends in the 2017–19 period include:
• a range of benefit issues, including the rollout of Universal Credit (UC), the cash freeze in benefit levels, a continuing high level of failures of PersonaI Independence Payment (PIP) claims, the lowered benefit cap and the ‘two-child limit’ (where support to families through tax credits and UC is no longer paid for a third or subsequent child born after 5 April 2017)
• a rising level of problem debt, particularly in terms of basic housing, utility costs and Council Tax
• increasing numbers of migrants who are asylum seekers/refugees
• a rise in child poverty
• homelessness remaining high
• the cumulative effects of austerity on local authority budgets.
In other words the deliberately punitive benefits system and Tory austerity measures have driven hundreds of thousands of people into destitution where they are joined by increasing numbers of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees (the presence of which are in turn one of the driving forces behind the Brexit fiasco).
As Johnson boasts of “Global Britain” and hints at Sunlit Uplands, people are going hungry and cold and homeless.
Like the old categories of the deserving and undeserving poor there are different kinds of destitution. Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick , author of the report, reports that alongside the “old destitute” – asylum seekers and migrants without eligibility for benefits there are the new destitute: “People who once might have expected the welfare safety net to help them avoid extreme deprivation but who now have no such guarantee.”
Fitzpatrick’s study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, concluded that not only has the scale of destitution grown and intensified – but that it is likely to double to two million households – including one million children – as the coronavirus crisis deepens. She said:
“Our findings clearly show that levels of destitution in the UK were already rising sharply prior to the pandemic and the impact of Covid-19 has intensified the difficulties many people face accessing the help they need to meet their most fundamental needs.”
Reasons for people being tipped into destitution were “income shocks” – losing your job or facing unexpected bills. The report paints a desperate picture of a society teetering on the edge of extreme poverty but most of all of precarity having been normalised and now accepted as a state that millions of people survive in.
It’s in this context – as England engages in a bizarre act of economic self-harm – that a No Deal disaster will land. It’s worth remembering this when Johnson returns from Brussels having defeated the devilish Europeans and “set Britain free again”, or whatever ludicrous rhetoric is manufactured for this debacle.
The report was worked on by Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Glen Bramley, Janice Blenkinsopp, Jenny Wood, Filip Sosenko, Mandy Littlewood, Sarah Johnsen, Beth Watts, Morag Treanor and Jill McIntyre. You can read it here.