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.
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.