Destitution and paths to justice - (in)justice and paths to destitution

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


This paper reports findings from the authors’ current research on the links between access to legal advice and representation (or lack thereof) and pathways into and out of destitution. The project builds on work by Fitzpatrick and others (2016) on the definition and prevalence of destitution in the UK and encompasses a review of literature on legal need and access to advice and representation; a legal definition of destitution; analysis of legal issues contributing to destitute for 40 interviewees; and identification of potential advice points and barriers for those experiencing destitution. Emerging findings suggest that many of the social patterns evidenced by individuals who have experienced justiciable problems also apply to those individuals who have experienced episodes of destitution, notably social security and housing problems and related adverse events that increase vulnerability to both destitution and other legal problems. The proposed legal definition of destitution, drawing on human rights, immigration and asylum law, social security law and the common law, differs somewhat from Fitzpatrick and others’ definition but the key finding here is that only rarely is there an absolute duty on the part of the state to prevent or alleviate destitution. Interviewees’ experiences speak to a failure of social citizenship, with gaps or inadequacies in the post-2012 social security system a common cause of destitution, with a discretionary, patchy, sometimes hard-to-access and frequently stigmatised safety net of local government and charitable support far from guaranteed to catch those who fall through the holes.
Period28 Mar 2018
Event titleSocio Legal Studies Association Conference 2018
Event typeConference
LocationBristol, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • destitution
  • access to justice
  • advice services
  • administrative justice
  • welfare state
  • social security
  • poverty