'Living hell' of poverty is driving Brits to suicide, Christian debt charity warns

More than a third of people helped by debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) considered or attempted suicide as a way out of the "living hell" of financial difficulty, and more than half are living below the poverty line, a new report has found.

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The annual client report was launched today in London by CAP, which revealed a shocking insight into debt and poverty in the UK.

A third of clients waited three years between realising they were in chronic debt and seeking help, and 42 per cent were too afraid to do so because they were embarrassed. Matt Barlow, UK chief executive of CAP, said it was vital to tackle the "blanket of shame" felt by those with problem debt.

Almost three in 10 clients had been prescribed medicine for debt-related illnesses, and 61 per cent lived in fear of being kicked out of their homes. More than 20 per cent had had their marriage or relationship breakdown as a result of debt.

People feel "trapped in these situations", Barlow said. "They feel trapped in what can only be described as a living hell.

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"If your relationships are breaking down, there's no food to put on the table, and you're considering suicide as a way out, then that sounds like a living hell to me."

Disturbingly, in 2015 there was a 15 per cent increase in priority arrears; debt incurred by not being able to pay rent, council tax, or vital bills such as gas, electricity and water. Two thirds of clients had sacrificed meals because they couldn't afford to eat; a quarter of them did so regularly.

CAP now has 529 debt counselling centres across the country and works with 6,000 volunteers.

In London on Wednesday, one client, Cleo, shared her story. After having to stop working due to a back problem, she found herself unable to feed herself or her children. "It was horrible," she said. "I had nowhere to turn... I tried to do the best I could but it just got worse."

She attempted to commit suicide but failed, and was eventually placed in a halfway house and referred to CAP. She described her debt counsellor as "like an angel". He opened the piles of post she'd been too scared to deal with. Two years ago, she became debt free. "I love it," she said. "If it wasn't for CAP, I know for a fact I wouldn't be here now.

"If you knew me, you'd see the difference. It really did drag me down, and now I'm here."

Another client, Kirsty, is now more than four months clean after being addicted to drugs and alcohol. She has gone through CAP's newly launched 'Release Groups' programme, which works to help free clients from addiction.

Despite still living just a few doors down from her former dealer, she's managed to stay sober, and will be debt free in six weeks. "It all feels a world away from where I am now," she said.

Other stories compiled in the report demonstrated how CAP and churches around Britain are helping people in need. A centre in Preston North topped up a prepayment metre so a client could bathe her baby in warm water for the first time in two weeks. In Hemel Hempstead, CAP volunteers cleaned a client's home who had severe mental health difficulties and had not done so for 18 years. In Manchester, a team from the debt centre drove a client with four children to the supermarket every week for eight months until they could afford to run a car again.

"We see terrible levels of poverty, as some of these stories show, and we really wonder what would happen were it not for the love and dedication of the local Church," Barlow said.

"It is our privilege to take these findings and make them public. We owe it to the people who suffer with poverty, unemployment, addiction and all their associated problems. We need to keep reminding ourselves of the daily realities they face — and our responsibility as a society to make those connections, bring them hope and provide prevention where possible."

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