A CALL for change has been made after new figures reveal that 1.5m people are living in destitution in the country.

The latest research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has identified a growing problem with people struggling to feed themselves or keep a roof over their heads.

And Middlesbrough has one of the highest rates, according to the latest data.

Researchers identified people as destitute if they lacked two or more of six basic living essentials, including basic toiletries, food, heating and shelter.

The research concluded that people largely become destitute following longer-term experiences of poverty, with single, younger men at highest risk. Three quarters of those in destitution were born in the UK and rates are highest in northern English and Scottish cities and some London boroughs.

As a result, the charity is calling on the Government make changes including, ending the freeze on working-age benefits and changing the use of sanctions within Universal Credit so that people are not left destitute by design.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the JRF, said: "Many of us rely on public services such as social security when hit with unexpected circumstances like job loss, relationship breakdown or ill health. Yet actions by government, local authorities and utility companies are leading to ‘destitution by design’ – forcing people into a corner when they are penniless and have nowhere to turn. This is shameful.

“Social security should be an anchor holding people steady against powerful currents such as rising costs, insecure housing and jobs, and low pay, but people are instead becoming destitute with no clear way out.

“To be destitute doesn’t just mean getting by on very little, it’s losing the ability to keep a roof over your head, eat often enough, or afford warm clothes when it’s cold. You can’t keep yourself clean or put the lights on. This shouldn’t happen to anybody, let alone over one and a half million people in the UK."

Food was cited as the most commonly-lacked item, with 62 per cent within the group reporting that they had gone without over the past month. Nearly half, 47 per cent, had lacked basic toiletries, with 46 per cent lacking suitable clothing and 42 per cent having to go without heating.

One in five people who were destitute reported lacking lighting at home, and 16 per cent had recently slept rough. Nearly half of all destitute households reported lacking three or more of these essentials in the month before they were surveyed.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University, lead author of the research said: “It is clear from the people we spoke to that destitution has a huge impact not only on the practicalities of life but on people’s dignity.

"Destitution has many different causes such as sickness and ill health, debt, or even the direct result of social security policy, especially the sanctioning regime. Most often it’s the end point of a build-up of problems associated with deep and ongoing experiences of poverty."

And Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, backed the charity's call for change.

He said: “I could not agree more with this report. Destitution by design is a reality. The government has instituted policies over the last eight years that have systematically undermined the public services we all rely on and slashed people’s entitlements whilst providing nothing but the most basic safety net for the most vulnerable in society.

"Cuts to Local Government, Social Security, the NHS and Education cannot be taken in isolation. In the one of the richest countries in the world we have seen an explosion in the use of foodbanks with more and more people reliant on the charity of others for their basic needs than ever before.

"This is an agenda that is failing, it is a political choice and it can be stopped but there is no political will to do so. Resources in the public sector are stretched to breaking point with the outrage of council budgets in some Conservative Local Authority areas increased whilst Council’s like my own in Middlesbrough see their budgets decimated. Those who can afford it the least suffer the most and it is a record of failure of which this government should be ashamed.”