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When poverty means living without soap

Olly, who has been in serious debtImage copyright Christians Against Poverty

Struggling to pay the bills, and with no success in finding a job, Olly says spending was often a choice between food and electricity.

“We were on a key meter and constantly running out. We were in the dark,” said the 42-year-old, from Hampshire.

“It was really hard on the children. They would normally watch TV – but then they couldn’t. You don’t realise how much you depend on it until you have lost the electric.

“At times we had no food in the house. We couldn’t even afford a loaf of bread.

“Once we ran out of milk and I ended up early in the morning waiting around for the milkman and taking a bottle from someone’s house. I felt so guilty. I couldn’t see another way.”

Debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) said that a third of its clients had experienced destitution of this kind while in financial difficulty.

This is defined as going without two or more out of six essentials on a regular basis. The list includes shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing and footwear, and basic toiletries such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste.

An estimated 1.5 million people in the UK were destitute and had accessed a support service in the previous year, according to a recent survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Image copyright Christians Against Poverty

Olly said that the experience affected his mental health as well as having to cope with the household realities.

“It was devastating. I felt personally responsible, as if I was worthless. It felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I should have been doing more to provide for my family. It made me more depressed,” he said.

“I had to rely on my mum and ask her for money. It feels degrading. Then our bed broke and we couldn’t afford to fix it or buy a new one.

“You are in a spiral that you think you will never get out of.”

Eventually, he sought help from CAP, who helped him get a second hand bed, secure food bank vouchers, and set up a plan to pay off debts. He had turned to alcohol but has now been sober for eight months.

“I am not able to save but I am quite content with what I have, and sometimes I can treat my kids,” he said.

Get help early

The charity said that people typically struggled with debt for one or two years before seeking help.

It urged those getting into trouble to talk to debt charities such as CAP, StepChange or Citizens Advice, for free as soon as they realised there was a problem.

Almost every person experiencing destitution seen by CAP described feeling socially isolated or lonely when in debt.

But it also called for more action from the authorities, ranging from an increase in the availability of low-cost credit to debt repayments to local and central government to be based on affordability.

“More has to be done to protect the most vulnerable in this country and we need to look again at UK poverty and prioritise solutions to ensure no-one is left destitute,” said CAP chief executive Matt Barlow.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48762940

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