Skip to main content

Homelessness, Destitution, and Hunger Soar in the UK

Ending Poverty Needs Solutions Grounded in Human Rights

Food and household products are laid out to be given to those in need at the Dads House charity in the West Brompton district of London, UK, October 13, 2022.  © 2022 Mary Turner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Newly released information paints a grim picture of life for many in the United Kingdom: food bank use, homelessness, and destitution are on the rise, putting people’s rights at risk.

The Trussell Trust, the largest UK-wide food bank network, reported it is giving out 16 percent more emergency food parcels than last year, and 116 percent more than it was five years ago. The reason? People on low incomes often have no alternative but to turn to food banks.

Government data released last week showed that the number of households in England facing homelessness and placed in “temporary accommodation” was up 10 percent from the previous year. Families often face years in “temporary accommodation”; a quarter of households with children spend two to five years, sometimes in rights-violating conditions. Meanwhile, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently published estimates that 3.8 million people experienced destitution in the UK in 2022.

Read a text description of this video

Patricia Leatham
It's just living in conditions like this, you almost don't feel like a person to be honest.

Housing Rights
London, UK

More than 96,000 homeless families live in government-provided temporary accommodation in England.

Patricia Leatham
We moved in, in October of 2019. We were made homeless because we were in a property, which was my parents’. And wn my mother died, that's how we became homeless.

The UK government should ensure proper standards of living for everyone in temporary accommodation.

Patricia Leatham
When I first moved in, I had no proper heating. My son was always cold and when it's cold, it’s absolutely freezing. And then obviously I have no access to any portable heating. So, it's just actually using lots of clothing and blankets to just to keep making sure that he's warm.

And you've got lots of wires it's all exposed. At one point there was a leak. So, it was all very damp, and the bathroom was very moldy, kind of you know, very grim looking.

Living in temporary accommodation significantly impacts the rights of children.

Patricia Leatham
I remember actually having a little box because I tried to connect up the WIFI to get some WIFI for my son for school. So, my WIFI box was just kind of hanging somewhere here. So, my son could never get proper reception for his schoolwork. 

They will give you a shell of a place. That's it. Regardless of whether you've got food, whether you've got chairs with you've got beds, that's it, they've given you somewhere to live and you can't say no.

The UK government should ensure adequate housing in temporary accommodations, and make sure families’ needs are met, including children.

Patricia Leatham
The powers that be are just not considerate. They're not compassionate or they don't care.

At a conference organized by rights group Just Fair last week, Patricia Leatham, a former support teacher, spoke about the homelessness she and her teenage son experienced for two years and its impact on their health and rights. Leatham also spoke about her work and her son’s education, calling for “more care and compassion” in politics.

The gathering marked five years since then United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston visited the UK and afterward issued an excoriating report. The current Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter, reiterated Alston’s criticisms, urging a rights-based approach to social security and poverty.

De Schutter’s calls to ensure social security payments address in-work poverty, are regularly updated to meet rising living costs, and reach everyone who needs them echo an important domestic advocacy effort. The Guarantee Our Essentials campaign calls for an independent evaluation of the adequacy of social security payment levels, and legislation to ensure no one is left below this level.

At the gathering, activists identified the way forward: #FightPovertyWithRights.

Recent polling data shows that the UK public is strongly supportive of treating hunger, homelessness, destitution, and inadequate social security as rights issues. Political leaders at all levels of government in the UK need to catch up with the public, as some in Scotland and Wales have begun to do, and build a response to hunger, homelessness, and poverty grounded in respect for human rights. 

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.