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Christians Against Poverty report reveals acute cost-of-living crisis for its clients

22 May 2024


The chief executive of CAP, Stewart McCulloch

The chief executive of CAP, Stewart McCulloch

FORTY-SIX per cent of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) clients had considered taking their own life as a way out of their debt, and nine out of ten reported having sleepless nights from financial anxiety, the charity’s latest report says.

The report, published on Wednesday, draws on a survey of clients of the charity’s debt-help services, which, in 2023, were offered at more than 400 church-based centres across the UK.

In addition, CAP runs money-management courses, in an attempt to pre-empt the slide into problem debt (News, 2 February).

On Tuesday morning, the charity’s chief executive, Stewart McCulloch, said that, while the headline figures on inflation were improving, increases in the cost of living remained acute for millions of people in the UK.

“The crisis for so many millions — and we are talking millions here — is actually nowhere near ending. While we’re doing all we can with all we’ve got, it’s really important that those in the Church recognise that there is still one heck of a hill to climb in order to restore the affordability of even the basics of the people we work with.”

The CAP report says that 19 per cent of its clients went daily without heating, and nine per cent did not turn the lights on. Mental and physical health was also affected: everyday acts such as answering the phone or opening the front door became frightening for the majority of clients.

Sixty-four per cent said that anxiety made a pre-existing health condition worse, and 48 per cent reported that it triggered new health problems.

Almost one quarter of CAP’s clients waited more than three years before seeking help, and almost two-thirds waited more than a year. About a half reported that embarrassment or shame had prevented their seeking help earlier.

Mr McCulloch said that CAP’s church-based model gave it a presence in local communities in the most deprived parts of the UK, and the charity was able to spread the word about its services organically, through local networks, as well as in national campaigns.

Mr McCulloch was not optimistic about the extent that electioneering politicians would be addressing such issues.

“I’m pretty disappointed with all of the parties so far, and I don’t say that lightly: we’re not a political organisation. . . None of them really touch the sides of our clients’ issues,” he said on Tuesday.

The most recent budget included the abolition of charges of debt-relief orders (DROs), a move for which CAP had long lobbied, and which Mr McCulloch described this week as a “hurray moment” (News, 6 March).

There were other helpful simple and relatively inexpensive policy changes that could be introduced, such as measures to streamline the benefits system, he said.

CAP advisers help clients to claim all of the payments to which they are entitled — something that, it says, is often more complicated than it may seem.

Given the scale of debt and poverty in the UK, the issue should be higher up the political agenda, Mr McCulloch said.

“Eight million people have problem debts, and probably 14 million would count as in poverty, and then you’ve got the millions of Christians and others who see this as a major issue. [Given all this], we are kind of disappointed and surprised that isn’t a bigger issue in the election.”

The full report, Under the Rubble of Debt and Poverty: Client report 2023, can be read on the CAP website.

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