Opinion: It Is Time To Give People In Problem Debt The Breathing Space To Thrive

We are living in the perfect financial storm. With rising energy bills, removal of the Universal Credit uplift, and the ending of furlough – this dreadful combination will leave many households entering a bleak winter.

Problem debt was already a significant issue prior to the pandemic. The last twenty months has had a devastating impact on the finances of many households and it is undeniable that those with the lowest of incomes have been hit hardest. 

Experts are warning of a ‘debt crisis’ for millions of families across the UK. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number of households on low incomes in arrears has tripled since the pandemic began. Those households who had just been ‘getting by’, have now been swallowed up by their financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic. According to the Money Advice Trust, these are the people who also reported a negative impact on their mental health. 

On top of this, CAP’s most recent client report* highlighted that 45% of CAP clients across the UK did not know where to seek help, with almost two-thirds (62%) thinking they could resolve their debt problems themselves. 

If this is you…you are not alone and nor will you ever be. As we enter this new season, no one in our communities should feel isolated, in despair, or without hope. When the weight of your finances pulls you down, know that there are others who can help you escape the trauma and shame. People should no longer feel like they are nearing a cliff edge. 

In my current role as Regional Lead of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in the East of England, I am in the privileged position of hearing the many stories of people across our region who journey with CAP to break free from debt. Across East Anglia and the East of England, CAP has over twenty-five debt centres in places as widespread as Dereham, Saxmundham, Chelmsford, and Ely. Debt Centre Manager John who runs the Ely CAP Centre said, “The biggest impact in the lives of clients is the injection of hope into a problem that seemed insurmountable. CAP offers solutions that were previously unavailable or thought to be unworkable and support people all the way through the process of becoming debt-free.”

Ricky, a former CAP client powerfully explains the impact of getting help; “To say CAP saved my life is an understatement. I became debt-free in October 2020. It’s like someone has lifted a great weight off my shoulders! I’m optimistic now. I’ve started a career in security, and have even offered to volunteer with CAP. Once you’ve been there yourself, you can help people and tell them how it can end.”

I will never forget my first impression of seeing a client’s relief when I walked through the door with my local debt coach. The journey out of debt and into hope was a joy to observe and a privilege to be part of. 

Problem debt is pervasive; it affects all areas of life and it corrodes anything good. We don’t want the burden of debt to be part of anyone’s story. Don’t delay in getting the help you need, don’t let fear and shame steal away the hope of breaking free from debt.

Written by Lorraine Papaioannou

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