Brexit-obsessed MPs are ‘blind to UK poverty’

28 June 2019

STUART BAILEY/CAP

Olly, a CAP debt-help client

Olly, a CAP debt-help client

MEMBERS of Parliament are too busy “arguing over Brexit” to pay attention to the hundreds of people who are being pulled into extreme poverty in the UK, Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has said.

In a report, Left Destitute by Debt, published on Wednesday, the charity reported that almost one third of its clients had experienced destitution as a result of financial difficulty. This meant that clients had lived without two or more basic essentials: shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing and footwear, and basic toiletries.

The most common forfeits of poverty were heating and food, it says. Of the 1259 clients surveyed for the report, 20 per cent went without at least three essentials, and ten per cent without four. Many clients were also unable to afford household items or appliances, such as a bed, mattress, cooker, fridge, or washing machine.

Half of destitute households were in rent- or mortgage-arrears, and one in five had been threatened with eviction and homelessness. A higher proportion of younger households had slept rough. One in ten clients did not have a permanent shelter.

The chief executive of CAP, Matt Barlow, said: “We feel the Government has a poverty blind spot currently, with other issues like Brexit seemingly taking precedence. More has to be done to protect the most vulnerable in this country, and we need to look again at UK poverty and prioritise solutions to ensure no one is left destitute.”

One in five (22 per cent) of the total UK population lives in poverty: that is, 14.2 million people.

Almost all CAP clients who experienced destitution (95 per cent) described feeling lonely or socially isolated when in debt. This was a result, the report says, not only of the prohibitive costs of socialising, but of the “shame and anxiety” caused by living in destitution and debt.

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One CAP client, Olly, said: “At times we had no food in the house. We couldn’t even afford a loaf of bread. Once, we ran out of milk, and I ended up early in the morning waiting around for the milkman and taking a bottle from someone’s house. I felt so guilty. I couldn’t see another way.”

More than half (53 per cent) of destitute households had taken out credit to pay a bill or another debt, and a third (34 per cent) had borrowed money from friends or family: four per cent used a loan-shark company to pay debts.

Olly described debt as a “vicious circle” that led him to attempt suicide twice. “It was devastating. I felt personally responsible, as if I was worthless. . . I had to rely on my mum and ask her for money. It feels degrading.”

Almost all CAP clients (96 per cent) also reported poor health; 62 per cent reported having mental ill-health; and more than one third as having a physical disability. One quarter (24 per cent) had a serious or terminal illness, and 20 per cent had a learning difficulty.

Olly said: “It started because I couldn’t find someone who would employ me. My haemophilia was a big barrier. I went for loads of job interviews, and even worked in a place for three or four months, but I couldn’t find anything long term. I have five kids; so you know you have to put them first, whatever happens. But it was really tight. There was never any money to pay the bills.”

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