Legal protection against destitution in the UK: the case for a right to a subsistence minimum

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In a 2003 Supreme Court judgment, Lord Hoffmann argued that in the absence of a guaranteed minimum standard of living, many other rights are reduced to ‘a mockery’. Given research findings that 2.4 million UK residents experienced destitution in 2019, this article considers whether a social floor exists in law and the implications of its absence or weakness for the standard of human rights protection in the UK. The common law, social rights treaties and the European Convention on Human Rights can each play a role in identifying a minimum standard of living, but with variable precision, generosity and enforceability – and subject to the sovereign legislature setting its own social floor, including one that may render people destitute. With an analysis of the case law revealing clear weaknesses in protection against destitution, the authors argue that a specific statutory duty is required to address this failure of rights protection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-497
Number of pages33
JournalThe Modern Law Review
Issue number2
Early online date14 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Lecturer, School of Law, Ulster University. This article draws on research funded by the Legal Education Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The authors would like to thank Michael Adler, David Webster and the MLR's anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts, which have helped make it a better piece of work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. The Modern Law Review published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Modern Law Review Limited.


  • Destitution
  • social rights
  • human rights
  • poverty
  • inhuman and degrading treatment
  • family life
  • European Convention on Human Rights
  • European Social Charter
  • law of humanity
  • welfare state
  • social security
  • social assistance
  • Social Protection
  • social welfare
  • extreme poverty
  • Asylum seekers
  • asylum support
  • hardship


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