Only 1 per cent of the population would consider going to a charity if they lost their regular income and couldn't pay their bills.
The finding is contained in a survey published by the Elizabeth Finn Trust in advance of a conference on UK poverty it is hosting tomorrow.
According to government figures, 12.4 million people live in poverty, which is defined as living on less than £118 a week.
However, the survey found that three-quarters would not ask for help because they believe they should be self-reliant. The findings might explain why 50 per cent of the trust's beneficiaries wait up to five years before seeking help.
People are often unaware that help is available. A quarter of those questioned believed there were less than 100 UK charities offering help to British people in need. In fact, there are 3,500.
"Poverty is socially more embarrassing than cancer, which is why people are so reluctant to get help," said Uta Hope, director of development and communications. "As a sector, we need to be clearer about what is on offer."
The survey also revealed that most British people believe that tackling poverty in the UK is as important as tackling poverty in the developing world.