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People skipping meals to save money, Christians Against Poverty poll suggests

05 September 2023

Phil Morley

The Bishop of Dunwich, Dr Mike Harrison, last week visited the “top-up” shop run by volunteers at St Matthew’s, Ipswich. The shop, which has been operating since the Covid pandemic, offers shoppers a full bag of groceries for £2. Queuing begins at 7.30 a.m. before the shop opens at 9 a.m. every Thursday. Ten similar shops run in C of E churches through the week in the town

The Bishop of Dunwich, Dr Mike Harrison, last week visited the “top-up” shop run by volunteers at St Matthew’s, Ipswich. The shop, which has been oper...

MORE than one quarter of UK adults are skipping meals at least once a month as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, Christians Against Poverty (CAP) has calculated.

The charity commissioned a YouGov poll of 2020 UK adults between 3 and 5 July. Of those polled, 28 per cent said that they were skipping meals once a month to meet rising costs. One in five (21 per cent) were skipping meals once a week.

Another 28 per cent of adults surveyed agreed that keeping up with bills and credit commitments was a heavy burden. Nine per cent — the equivalent of 4.9 million people if applied to the whole UK population — reported that they had accrued debts that they had no idea how to repay.

Financial pressures were negatively affecting well-being, the poll found. More than half the respondents (56 per cent) felt that their mental health had suffered in the past year. Almost one quarter (23 per cent) reported feeling daily anxiety about their finances; 22 per cent said that they had lost sleep at least once a week owing to worry; and ten per cent agreed with the statement: “At times I have felt the increased cost of living has made my life not worth living.”

One third (31 per cent) of those polled — equivalent to 16.1 million people — said that their physical health was also negatively affected by financial burdens. A similar number said that they could no longer afford to do things that they used to enjoy. Eight per cent said that they could no longer afford basic expenses such as food, clothing, and rent.

About 17 per cent of those surveyed said that they had supported someone who had been struggling financially in the past 12 months.

The director of church engagement and network at CAP, the Revd Lyn Weston, said: “It’s heartbreaking to see so many families being forced to cut back or cut out essentials. People created in the image of God are being denied a basic sense of dignity — but the Church is responding with action and making a real difference.

“The demand for help is extremely high right now; so we’d urge any church not connected with CAP already to contact us and run one of our services locally to help people through this really difficult time.” She suggested running short skills courses, such as CAP Life Skills, or money coaching.

One CAP client, Jenny, fell into debt after a difficult pregnancy and a traumatic birth that left her unable to return to work. She said: “I suffered many traumas during that time, and was diagnosed with complex PTSD and lost my job because of it. We were just about ticking over, but we had to take out a credit card loan because the car blew up and we needed to buy another car.”

After seeking help from CAP, the family is now debt-free. Jenny works two days a week and receives Universal Credit. “Through these incomes they were able to create a budget for me and a repayment plan.”

Ms Weston said that churches could also help people by offering community groups, foodbanks, or warm-welcome hubs. “We’ve found that CAP courses work really well when complementing an existing church ministry, such as a coffee morning or toddler group. Churches tell us that these services have helped those who feel on the outside of faith into a deeper sense of connection and belonging in church life.”

Commission calls for a new approach to poverty levels. The cross-party Poverty Strategy Commission has identified a “missing” £36 billion in national resources that, it says, are needed to eradicate poverty in the UK.

This figure is equal to an increase of £6000 a year for each of the six million families living in poverty.

This is not a spending ask of government or business, the Commission says in its first report, A New Framework for Tackling Poverty, published on Tuesday. Rather, it is money that could be saved and used by reducing costs, increasing working hours, improving health and family stability, increasing productivity, and reducing debt.

Besides tackling poverty, many of these actions would simultaneously improve economic growth and benefit the Exchequer, the Commission argues. It says that poverty rates have remained “stubbornly high” since the early 2000s: between 21 and 24 per cent of the population have an income below the poverty line.

Poverty rates for children remain “markedly higher” than for adults and pensioners, the 56-page report says, and the youngest children face the highest poverty rates. Children represent about one third (32 per cent) of the total number of people in poverty in the UK. This is compared with 21 per cent of the overall population.

The cost-of-living crisis was contributing to a “worsening situation”.

Seven per cent of the UK population, the report says, live in “deep” poverty, which is calculated as being more than 50 per cent below the poverty line. For example, a single person, unemployed, looking for work and relying solely on Universal Credit, or a couple, both unemployed, with a single child and relying solely on Universal Credit.

The Commission found that 1.6 million more people were in deep poverty in 2019 to 2020 than in 2000 to 2001. Pensioner poverty rates had decreased by six per cent over the same period.

The Commission is chaired by Baroness Stroud. She said on Tuesday that the “rallying cry” of the Commission was “Together we can tackle poverty. The status quo is unacceptable but not inevitable, as the work of the Commission shows. We can make a once-in-a-lifetime impact on poverty in the UK if all key actors play their part.”

The report sets out a comprehensive plan for businesses, civic society, individuals, and families in poverty, as well as national and local governments. This includes a social contract to increase net incomes by five per cent (both earnings and benefits); increase liquid assets (families encouraged to save in good times); reducing the cost of housing, childcare and disability; and supporting and improving relationships and networks; education and qualifications; physical and mental health; financial capability; and labour-market outcomes.
 

capuk.org/moneycoaching
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