The number of British households plunged into destitution more than doubled last year. It has emerged that there were 220,000 more households living in destitution by the end of last year, potentially more than half a million people.
The increase in destitution – from 197,400 to 421,500 households last year - is defined as a two-adult household living on less than £100 a week and a single-adult household on less than £70 a week after housing costs.
The disproportionate economic impact on regions such as the north-west of England that were placed under stricter restrictions during the tier system last autumn. National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) estimated that the number of households living in destitution in north-west England was three times the UK figure.
Louise Casey, Johnson’s adviser on homelessness last year, said she would be willing to be a part of a review, warning Britain had been “torn apart” by the pandemic. She said. “By March, there will be 6 million people on Universal Credit. Almost 4 million are furloughed, and those still working are on less income. Unemployment has doubled and will keep rising. If 25% of your population is affected, then you can’t just tweak old policies, working out the least expensive, least challenging thing that can be done. You need big new policies.”
“We need to move into Royal Commission territory,” she said. “A new Beveridge report. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Government can, if it wants to, do something on a different scale now. The nation has been torn apart, and there’s no point being defensive about that. We’ve got to gift each other some proper space to think. We’ve got to work out how not to leave the badly wounded behind.”
Professor Jagjit Chadha, the director of NIESR, repeated a warning that the official unemployment rate of 5% “seems to be under-reporting the true level”. He said: “As a result of lockdowns, levels of destitution seem to be rising across the country. But what’s terribly worrying is that in certain regions – in the north-west in particular – we might see some 4, 5 or 6% of the population living in destitution.