THE UK is losing the fight against poverty, the charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has warned. People are now sinking under the weight of debt incurred to cover the cost of essentials such as food and heating, it says.
In its annual client report, published on Wednesday, the charity says that half the people coming to it for help with debt do not have enough money to meet household essentials. As part of its debt-advice support, the charity creates budgets for clients, removing all non-essential spending; but half of these budgets are unsustainable, showing that clients’ incomes are not enough to cover essential expenditure. The average person is now £242 short each month of the money needed for essentials, it reports.
More than half of CAP’s clients have gone into debt to cover food, clothing, other living costs, and household bills, the report shows. The report’s figures are based on the charity’s annual report and accounts and analysis of data for 4105 households that came to CAP for help in 2022, and 231 for which a financial statement was activated for the first time last year.
A spokesperson for the charity said: “This issue of insufficient budgets has been emerging only over the last year or so, driven by unprecedented price increases.
“However, because CAP provides more than debt advice, we have been able to help people with emergency aid (food packages and fuel top-ups), and, because our churches are integral parts of their local communities, they can link people to foodbanks, clothes banks, etc. Most important of all, we’re an emotional and physically present lifeline for people as we provide face-to-face support — something which, many clients say, continues to give them the strength and hope to carry on.
“But we absolutely know that the country is losing the fight against poverty, and we need to fight this through targeted government action.”
Around 9.3 million people in the UK are living with problem debt, according to the Money and Pensions Service.
The charity’s figures from the past five years show that the proportion of client budgets that are unsustainable has risen every year, except 2020, when the £20 uplift to Universal Credit was in place. Since its removal, and with the surge in inflation, the trend has increased sharply.
Worst-affected are single parents, people with disabilities and serious illnesses, the bereaved, and those who have experienced abuse. Half of all clients are reliant on benefits alone for income, but others were earning and in work.
Clare, a single mother, is a client of CAP. She said: “I’m a single mum trying to raise two boys. They say you can survive on benefits but you can’t. I’ve had to use foodbanks in the last couple of months just to top us up.”
More than half (54 per cent) of CAP’s clients have skipped meals, and 51 per cent have been unable to heat their homes. More than half now suffer from mental ill-health and half have considered suicide as a way out of debt — a rise from 36 per cent of people who said this last year.
In the introduction to the report, CAP’s Director of External Affairs, Gareth McNab, says: “As a society, we have a severe problem on our hands, and we cannot allow it to continue. As individuals, organisations and churches who care deeply about people, and who ardently want to see change, now is the time to come together and fight back. Because poverty isn’t going anywhere unless we do something about it.”
CAP is calling on the Government to provide more funding for debt help and short-term support for people on the lowest incomes to cope with rising costs. It is urging all political parties to make tackling poverty a key priority in their election manifestos.