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Cost-of-living crisis is pushing some to brink of suicide, warn Christians Against Poverty

20 June 2022

ALAMY

Thousands join a protest in Parliament Square, on Saturday, organised by the Trade Union Congress, which demanded a better deal against the rising cost of living

Thousands join a protest in Parliament Square, on Saturday, organised by the Trade Union Congress, which demanded a better deal against the rising cos...

THE cost-of-living crisis is breaking down people’s mental health and putting lives at risk, as more low-income families fall into debt, Christians Against Poverty (CAP) warns in a new report.

In 2021, the charity supported 13,452 clients on their journey to becoming debt-free, of whom 1877 achieved this. Most (85 per cent) had an income below the UK national average. Its latest report, On the Edge, published on Monday, is based on a survey of these clients.

It shows that, in that year, more than one third (36 per cent) had considered or attempted to take their own lives as a way out of debt (24 and 12 per cent respectively). This was up from 28 per cent during the pandemic year of 2020 — suggesting a “concerning connection” between the level of financial support, such as the temporary Universal Credit uplift (News, 17 December 2021), and mental health, the report says.

“This was despite the considerable stress and anxiety of the pandemic,” it continues, “suggesting that when people had the essentials they needed and were adequately supported, they felt more hopeful, that they had the dignity of options, and were less likely to be driven to this point. If we can fix the root of the problem, we would hope to see this heart-breaking statistic fall.”

Mental health was cited as the top reason for falling into debt (19 per cent) in 2021, next to low income (17 per cent), relationship breakdown (11 per cent), and problems with budgeting (nine per cent). Most CAP clients felt lonely and did not seek help straightway.

The average peak debt for a CAP client in 2021 was £17,306, compared with an average income of £13,404 (after housing costs). For the 3609 new clients in 2021, priority debts — to cover basic living costs such as rent, utility bills, council tax — peaked at an average of £6698, up by 14 per cent for new clients in the previous year (£5852).

From its last report in 2020, the number of clients sacrificing meals to make ends meet increased by more than one quarter (27 per cent), while those going without heating increased by 22 per cent. Almost half the clients (48 per cent) could not afford basic toiletries in 2021; 24 per cent could not afford to light their home; and 61 per cent could not afford weather-appropriate clothing.

Calls to CAP increased by more than 40 per cent in the first five months of 2022, compared with 2021.

The chief executive of CAP, Paula Stringer, writes in the foreword to the report: “People in the UK are suffering, dragged under by whirlpools of fear, desperation, and isolation. Underneath the surface, poverty is so much more than being materially deprived. Mental ill-health is an increasingly common reason for debt amongst CAP clients. . .

“With the cost of living rising at a rate we haven’t experienced in decades, millions are being dragged into the chilling depths of poverty, destitution, and despair. Never has it been more crucial that we step forward and respond to what’s going on under the surface. We can, and must, act.”

A former CAP client, Julie, who is a residential home carer in Port Talbot, Wales, was £28,000 in debt when she sought help. The charity put the debt collectors on hold and supported her through bankruptcy. She writes in the report: “I want people to know they’re not alone. Help is available. There is a way out.”

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