A new report by debt-help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) reveals that people on the lowest incomes are on ‘the edge’.
Neill Parker, manager of CAP’s Alnwick Debt Centre, based at Alnwick Baptist Church, said: “We know that everyone’s feeling the impact of the cost of living crisis right now, but if you’re already on a low income, the strain is relentless - plus there’s the added anxiety over future rises in living costs.”
His concerns are backed up by Alnwick and District Food Bank.
Clive Gibson, chairman, said: “We are still seeing above average demand and 90% of new referrals are down to the current crisis.
"Rising food and energy prices, coupled with high private rents, are pushing more and more people to the edge. We fully expect the coming winter to be incredibly busy.”
CAP has been offering free debt-help, along with emotional and practical support, to people across Alnwick and the surrounding area over the past four years.
“People fall into debt for a variety of reasons,” says Neill. “They may have been made redundant, left a job to care for a family member, suffered from a long term illness themselves, or experienced a relationship breakdown - which cuts many household’s income in half.”
CAP’s To The Edge report reveals that new clients in the North East have a peak debt of over £17,310 and that without free debt help, it would take on average 48 years for a North East household to repay their debts.
“This report shows the reality of the situation for many people,” says Neill. “The cost of living crisis is leaving many families on unsustainable budgets, with little or nothing left over after covering their basic living costs. People are aware that they could suddenly be plunged into large amounts of debt, and they’re scared.”
He adds: “The detrimental impact that these kinds of debts have are significant. CAP’s report shows that, unsurprisingly, more people are suffering from depression compared to last year, and more are also experiencing anxiety or panic attacks.
"Most concerningly, the percentage of our clients who tell us they’ve attempted or considered suicide, as a way out of their debt, has risen as well from last year from 28% to 36%. This is heartbreaking, and doesn’t have to be the case - help is available.”
Meanwhile, families are being urged to check if they are entitled to vouchers to help buy food for their children, after figures revealed almost 465 eligible households in Northumberland were not claiming before the cost of living crisis.
Pregnant women or parents and guardians to children aged under four who are receiving certain benefits are entitled to NHS Healthy Start vouchers to help buy fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula. The benefit is worth up to £36.96 per month per child through a prepaid card to use in stores.
In Northumberland, only 80% of families entitled to Healthy Start vouchers were claiming in March. It means at least £102,800 worth of food is going unclaimed per year.
CAP can be contacted for debt support on freephone 0800 328 0006 or visit capuk.org.