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Borrowing increasing as winter begins to bite, says Christians Against Poverty

25 November 2022


A Christians Against Poverty client, Stephen, is a former oil-rig worker now unable to work after a car accident and two strokes. Thanks to CAP, he recently became debt free, but on Universal Credit, he is finding it difficult to afford the rising costs and worries about the winter ahead. “I’m really frightened about the gas bill coming now. When winter comes everything is going up — that will be the end of us”

A Christians Against Poverty client, Stephen, is a former oil-rig worker now unable to work after a car accident and two strokes. Thanks to CAP, he re...

MORE than four million people in the UK are being forced to borrow money to cover the cost of essentials such as heating and food, a new study has revealed, with those with terminal illnesses, disabled, or single parents the most vulnerable.

The charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP), which provides debt advice and support, said that polling by YouGov and a detailed survey of their clients found that people are already having to turn to credit to survive, even before the worst of the winter bites.

The majority of their clients — 88 per cent — have done so, including 60 per cent of people with a terminal illness, and 44 per cent of those with a disability. Forty-two per cent of single parents, and 47 per cent of people who have suffered abuse have had to borrow money to cover essential bills, CAP said.

A survey carried out for the charity by YouGov found that nearly one fifth of adults in the UK, about ten million people — not just people seeking help with debt — are now struggling financially.

Higher earners are using up savings where they have them, but those on low incomes, and even middle-income earners are particularly at risk of having to turn to high-cost credit during the cost-of-living crisis. One quarter of low earners — those earning less than £15,000 a year — have already fallen behind on bills. Many lower earners struggle to access reasonable credit, and end up borrowing from friends and family or using “buy now, pay later” deals with high interest rates. Some are forced to use as many different forms of credit as possible, the CAP study said.

Young people in particular are using high-cost credit, including pay-day loans, owing to a lack of opportunity to borrow elsewhere, compared with older people who have had more time to build up a good credit score.

More than one third of CAP clients said that they had considered suicide as a way out of their debts.

CAP’s report, Lifelines to Safety, looks at the scale of debt in the UK this autumn, as living costs rise. It warns that, as inflation stays high, the situation for people already on the edge is only going to get worse.

The report says: “As the water rises, it can be hard to know what lifeline to grab hold of in times of desperation and panic. Credit is often the first or default option that people turn to in times of financial difficulty. Findings show that credit can provide easy access to money in a timely manner, which other lifelines struggle with.”

Gareth McNab, from CAP, said: “People are facing a perfect storm of financial pressures, which has been increasingly driving those on the lowest incomes to seek credit wherever they can, just to pay for essentials.

“CAP’s Lifelines to Safety report reveals the desperate struggle many households on a low income currently face, and the lack of financial lifelines they have available to avoid falling into serious problem debt, and to help them survive this winter.”

One client, Stephen, worked on an oil rig, but a car accident and two strokes have left him unable to work. Although he became debt free with CAPs help, the rising costs of living is again threatening his ability to provide for himself. He said: “It has got harder and harder with gas, electric, and food going up. You start noticing your money is going nowhere.

“CAP have been brilliant, as they put your mind at rest and give you all the advice you need. But, with the bills increasing now, it’s getting worse.

“I’m really frightened about the gas bill coming now. When winter comes, everything is going up — that will be the end of us. I think a lot of people will be freezing to death because you’re choosing between food and heating.”

CAP is calling for the urgent regulation of “buy now pay later” deals to protect vulnerable consumers, and an extension to a scheme known as the Mental Health Breathing space scheme, to cover everyone receiving a terminal diagnosis. The scheme gives people receiving mental-health treatment a break from being pursued with legal action by creditors.

Although it welcomed the announcement last week of the uprating of benefits and the national living wage by inflation next year, CAP said the government had failed to address longer term opportunities to help those on low incomes and that the increases in benefits would be too late for many who were “facing destitution this winter and fearing for the future”.

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