Cost of living crisis: the hidden cost
By Charis Scott, Christians Against Poverty, Scotland Promotion and Engagement Manager
Over the last couple of years many of us have experienced what it’s like to feel trapped and lonely. Through lockdowns and periods of self isolation we’ve been cut off from friends, family and loved ones. We’ve experienced the impact on our mental health and wellbeing from periods of uncertainty and isolation.
For many of us, the easing of COVID restrictions in Scotland meant an end to isolation, but for thousands of low income households struggling with problem debt and poverty, the isolation and loneliness they feel is actually getting worse due to the cost of living crisis and mounting debts.
At Christians Against Poverty (CAP) we are seeing a concerning upward trend in the impact that low income and problem debt is having on households throughout Scotland. In a recent survey, we discovered that 60% of our clients have felt lonely often or always. Over two thirds (68%) were scared to answer the phone, more than half (55%) were too afraid to answer the door and 40% were too afraid to leave their home. Worryingly, the proportion who thought no one could help them has increased from 34% to 43%.
At CAP we have a network of community based Debt Centres based in many local Baptist churches throughout Scotland. Through our Debt Centres we provide free, professional, person-centred debt help to anyone who needs it.
Debt can happen to anyone, an income shock, a sudden change in circumstances, can push people into unexpected debt. At CAP Scotland, the main causes of debt that we see are low income, mental ill-health and relationship breakdown. In Scotland, the average annual household income for CAP clients is less than half of the UK average. Without a debt solution, the average repayment term in Scotland is a staggering 43 years – something that simply isn’t sustainable.
Even before the pandemic, over 1 million people in Scotland were living in poverty. That means for over 1 million people their resources fall far below their minimum needs. This means facing daily financial uncertainty that strips people of dignity, it strips them of choices and it prevents them from being able to fully participate in the community around them. Poverty is oppressive, it is all consuming and it can pull people under.
Right now as we face a cost of living crisis, poverty is on the rise. People in our cities, in our neighbourhoods and perhaps even living next door are going without the basic essentials that we all need. We know that poverty disproportionately affects some of our most vulnerable citizens with the highest rates for single parents, disabled households and those from Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
Regularly we hear from people who are struggling to afford the basic essentials that many of us take for granted. We hear heartbreaking stories from individuals who are feeling the impact of rising costs and worried about the future and how they will survive the winter when they can’t afford to heat their homes. Recently, one woman told us that the only reason she can afford to buy food is because she has a credit card and she can’t remember the last time she had 3 meals in a day as she chooses to go without in order to feed her children, surviving off their leftovers.
There is a particular stigma that exists around debt meaning that many people are too ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone. This leads to delays in seeking debt help, 1 in 2 of our clients wait for over a year to get help, often waiting until they reach crisis point.
CAP Scotland client, Bethany*, experienced the profound impact of problem debt on her mental health: “When you have debt you feel like you are hiding. You feel like people are after you, especially if you have mental health problems and are getting terrifying letters. Debt can be such a secret pain and worry. It can be something you don’t even speak to your family about so you don’t have any support.”
As a church it’s time for us to rise up and make a difference. It’s time to allow ourselves to be moved by holy discontent at the reality people in our communities are facing as many are being forced to make impossible choices between heating or eating. The latest stats released by the Scottish Government, show that people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland have a life expectancy that is 25 years shorter than those in the least deprived areas. Poverty is costing lives.
In the face of such overwhelming injustice it can be hard to know where to start but the important thing is to take that first step. Rise up in prayer, lift up the people around you and petition God for lasting change. Get to know people in your community, open your doors, show them the practical love of Jesus, host community meals, create a safe space for people to come and be heard. Partner with organisations like CAP, that can resource your church with specialist knowledge and tools.
Use your voice. Talk to your local Councillor or MSP. Right now the Scottish Government is not on track to meet the interim Child Poverty Targets for 2023. Make sure your local elected representatives know about the issues of poverty in your community and ask what they are doing about them.
Finally, we would love to take this opportunity to encourage you to consider opening your own CAP Debt Centre – they are needed now more than ever before. We’re here to serve and equip your church to serve your community and see lives transformed. Find out more by visiting capuk.org/yourchurch