Scotland has had “by far the lowest” rise in the number of people experiencing destitutionacross the UK, a new report has found.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that there are an estimated 3.8 million people suffering from destitution UK-wide – including more than one million children.

The study found the UK has seen a “shameful increase” in destitution, though its increase in Scotland was markedly less than in the other constituent parts of the country, when they are broken down into regions. 

More generous welfare benefits brought in by the Scottish Government were said to be helping keep levels of destitution in Scotland down.  

According to the report, rising levels of destitution mean almost two-and-a-half times as many people are suffering as there were in 2017, with nearly three times as many youngsters affected.

Rates of destitution – where people are not able to afford to meet their basic needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed – are highest in the London borough of Newham, it found.

The Herald: Glasgow's position had improved

Glasgow City Council is ranked 26th in the 30 local authorities with the worst rates of destitution, but it had dropped 16 places from the previous report in 2019.

The report found that at a regional level, London had the highest destitution levels in 2022, followed by the North East and the North West of England, and then the West Midlands.

The regions in the south of England had the lowest rates of destitution, with both Wales and Scotland having rates comparable with the Midlands.

While destitution had increased in all regions of the UK over the period 2019 to 2022, the report found Scotland’s position had improved “with by far the lowest increase since 2019”.

It added: “This may be indicative of the growing divergence in welfare benefits policies in Scotland, notably the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment.”

The benefit, which was introduced in Scotland in 2021, gives £25 per child under 16 a week to eligible low-income families.

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The report, the fourth in a series by the JRF, with research done by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, found overall “there has been a shameful increase in the level of destitution in the UK”.

It highlighted the “growing number of people struggling to afford to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed”, insisting there is now an “urgent need for action”.

Stating that the problem has “been increasing at an alarming rate since 2017” the report added: “Around 1.8 million households were destitute in the UK at some point over the course of 2022.

“These households contained around 3.8 million people, of whom around a million were children.”

The Herald: Heating bills were said to be partly behind the rise in destitution

It found that as in previous studies, food was the most common essential that people struggling with destitution lacked in 2022.

But with energy bills having risen rapidly, heating was the second most common thing for people to struggle with, followed by clothes and toiletries.

The report called on the UK Government to introduce an “Essentials Guarantee” into Universal Credit payments, ensuring that the basic amount people receive can cover all basic needs “such as food, energy, toiletries and cleaning products”.

Doing this “would have a significant impact on destitution”, the report said.

However, Chris Birt, associate director for the JRF in Scotland, said governments at both Holyrood and Westminster need to “step up” to deal with the problem.

He said: “The UK is a country with dramatically increasing destitution, where millions of people can’t afford heating or can’t afford the basic essentials like clothes or food. In a country this wealthy, that is outrageous.

“But this needn’t be the case, destitution in Scotland is rising much more slowly than in other parts of the UK with the Scottish Child Payment and local welfare support offering some protection.

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“Despite this, there is no cause for celebration when destitution numbers aren’t falling.

“It is time for both governments to step up to this challenge that years of failed government policy have caused.

“This is particularly acute for the UK Government and all the parties that are bidding to run it after the next election – they must come through for the Scottish people by embracing the Essentials Guarantee.

“The Scottish Government can also do more and will need to show it is willing to turn the tide on destitution in its forthcoming budget.”

The Herald:

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said that this year and last year, the Scottish Government had “allocated almost £3 billion to support policies to tackle poverty and to protect people as far as possible during the cost-of-living crisis, especially those are most impacted”.

She added that as of the end of June, the Scottish Child Payment was providing 316,000 children with support worth £25 per week, with the Scottish Government also making £83.7 million available through Discretionary Housing Payments to “mitigate UK Government welfare cuts”.

Ms Somerville said: “We estimate that 90,000 fewer children will live in relative and absolute poverty this year as a result of our policies, with poverty levels nine percentage points lower than they would have otherwise been.

“We continue to urge the UK Government to introduce an Essentials Guarantee to ensure people can afford life’s essentials and ensure vulnerable people are properly supported.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Government’s priorities are clear – the best way to help people in Scotland and across the UK with the cost of living is by driving down inflation and growing our economy.

“There are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 400,000 fewer children, but we know some families are struggling, which is why we are providing support worth an average of £3,300 per household, including raising benefits by over 10% this year.

“To help people out of poverty through work, we are increasing the National Living Wage again and are also investing £3.5 billion to help thousands into jobs by breaking down barriers to work.”