A NORTH-East charity has warned levels of destitution could rise further following the findings of a report revealing parts of the region have the highest rates in the country.

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ((JRF) found even before the Covid-19 pandemic, destitution was rapidly growing, with many more people "pushed to the brink" since it last looked at the issue in 2017.

According to its research, Middlesbrough has the highest levels in the UK, while Newcastle, Stockton and Hartlepool are all in the top 20.

Tracey Herrington, project manager for Thrive Teesside, a charity working to tackle poverty in the region, said: "Things need to change quickly, but they are not going to. I'm not being pessimistic, just realistic.

"There needs to be people acting on or listening to these issues or they will get worse and I dread to think what will happen."

She added: "This is an area which has lost a lot of central government funding. Services were cut before the pandemic and that has been amplified.

"The situation has got worse but it was intolerable before."

Low wages, unemployment and welfare payments are all driving rising destitution, she said.

The researchers have estimated that more than million households were destitute in the UK at some point in 2019, an increase of 35 per cent since 2017, with destitution becoming more geographically concentrated in the North.

Service users experiencing destitution most commonly lacked food , followed by clothing and basic toiletries.

Among the recommendations of the JRF are to make the £20 weekly uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit permanent, investment in local welfare support and working in partnership with people with lived experience of the social security system to ensure debt deductions from benefits are not drivers of hardship and destitution – something Thrive Teesside has been carrying out its own research on.

Ms Herrington added: "It's not an immediate quick response. We're talking about a cultural shift in attitude and the way people work."

She added: "It's in nobody's interest to have poverty and destitution. If more people were earning they would be paying more tax and have more money to spend in the local economy as well.

"It's been very difficult. With Brexit and the pandemic its very difficult to engage in those conversations about domestic issues."