More children are living in destitution in the North-East than anywhere else in the country, a new study has found.

In total, more than half a million UK children are living in destitution and about 2.4 million people experienced extreme hardship in 2019, according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). They said the figure represents an “appalling” rise of 54% over 2017 levels and the study found the highest average rates of destitution are in the North East, followed by London and the North West.

Yorkshire and Humber, the West Midlands and Scotland also have “relatively high” rates of destitution.

Middlesbrough, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham and Blackpool are among areas with the highest estimated rates.

The way in which Universal Credit (UC) is delivered was identified as one of the “key drivers” of the situation along with “inadequate benefits”.

The JRF expressed concern about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on people with little money, and called on the Government to retain the £20-a-week boost to UC introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic and not carry out plans to stop the extra payments next April.

It stated: “With evidence of rising debt and hardship since Covid-19 hit, there are fears that the pandemic may have pushed people experiencing destitution closer to the brink. The JRF is calling for urgent action to make the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit permanent, to stem the rising tide of destitution.

“Half of people experiencing destitution were claiming or had applied for UC when the survey was carried out.

“Debt deductions from benefit payments are identified as a key driver of destitution, in particular the repayable advance many are forced to take up to cover the minimum five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit. These debt deductions reduce people’s incomes to such an extent that many are pushed into destitution.”

Single people face the highest risks of destitution, but lone parents are now more likely to experience extreme hardship than before, the study said. The total number includes 550,000 children, a 52% increase in the two years to 2019, the probe found. The JRF defines destitution as being when a household cannot afford two or more essentials such as shelter, food, heating and clothing.