It’s now beyond dispute: poverty is gripping Britain, the sixth richest nation in the world. And one of York’s best-loved institutions, the world-renowned Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), has produced a report revealing the extent of the problem.

The JRF found that more than 1.5 million people were destitute in the UK last year alone, a figure higher than the populations of Liverpool and Birmingham combined.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of JRF, said: “Many of us rely on public services such as social security . . . Yet actions by government, local authorities and utility companies are leading to ‘destitution by design’: forcing people into a corner when they are penniless and have nowhere to turn. This is shameful.”

Meanwhile an exclusive poll commissioned by The Independent revealed one in 14 Britons has had to use a food bank, with similar numbers also forced to skip meals and borrow money as austerity measures leave them 'penniless with nowhere to turn'. In fact, nearly four million adults in the UK have been forced to use food banks.

This is in a context where research by Inequality Briefing has revealed Britain has nine out of the ten poorest regions in Northern Europe, and that there are 'shocking' levels of deprivation across the country compared to the European average, especially among children.

None of this is accidental. Harsh changes to the benefit system have created this situation. Indeed, recent government figures show almost half (49 per cent) of all universal credit decisions resulted in a benefit sanction – up 12 percentage points from August 2017 to October 2017.

What baffles me is that so many decent people do not seem to care. At least, not enough to insist those in power do something meaningful.

Of course, not one of us is free from ‘the selfish gene’. In that sense, it is perfectly natural to put the interests of yourself and your own family first. However, it seems short-sighted and foolish to assume that you or your loved ones are somehow incapable of falling into the poverty trap.

Unexpected circumstances like job loss, relationship breakdown or physical and mental ill health can all too suddenly make prosperous families poor. Especially in a situation where many of us are using credit cards to pay for essential bills or rely on overdraft facilities to get by each month. Even a slight rise in interest rates would have a severe effect on the finances of millions of homeowners.

It is quite possible, of course, that many decent Britons simply do not know how many of their fellow citizens are afflicted by poverty. The government has little incentive to advertise the facts and we all, to a certain extent, filter out bad news.

Then again, some people’s instinct is to blame the poor for being poor and imply it’s their own fault. All too often we hear how those on low incomes should not be allowed what are basic amenities in the modern world, like a TV or internet access. Why stop there? Perhaps they should be expected to sleep on the floor instead of a bed as well.

However, such dog-eat-dog attitudes are not justified by the facts, let alone civilised standards of compassion. Low pay and zero hours contracts, added to a situation of high housing costs, mean most people living in poverty in the UK are working. Many hard-working folk rely on small top ups of Universal Credit to stay above water. And, as we have seen, the deliberate hardships caused by punitive benefit sanctions can have a terrible effect on families.

In his classic novel, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens created two characters to illustrate the disgraceful inequalities of Victorian society: Ignorance and Want. By ‘Want’, he of course meant poverty and destitution. How sad that we have allowed the wealthy elite running Britain to inflict those problems on millions of lives.

This has to stop. Every one of us needs to think how we can achieve that change, whether through shifting public attitudes towards our less fortunate citizens or by ensuring dramatic changes in government policies. This crisis has been created deliberately. It can be just as deliberately resolved.