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Extreme poverty blights even the lives of those who work

Destitution is affecting increasing numbers in the UK, with the pandemic, universal credit and austerity policies the main causes

Joanne Abiola
Joanne Abiola found part-time work after a contract ended but it didn’t pay enough to stop the bailiffs coming round. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Craig Wilson, 45, from Wigan, found himself homeless in 2017 after losing his job in a factory. Initially unable to get a council flat due to debt, he found a privately rented flat but was receiving threatening letters and calls about his debts. “I was getting debt collectors knocking on my door everyday. I made a payment plan with the help of Christians Against Poverty and spent two years paying it back.

“I cut down on my electricity. I cut down on my heating. I was in a bad place with my mental health too.”

He is one of a growing number of people to have experienced extreme poverty in recent years, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The charity found that even before the pandemic, destitution – defined as an inability to afford two or more of shelter, food, heating, lighting, weather-appropriate clothing, or basic toiletries over the past month – had rapidly grown in scale and intensity.

Wilson, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression, said he has found it a “very strange time” getting back on his feet during the pandemic. “All these people are losing their jobs and benefits; it makes this lockdown a living hell,” he explains. “Staying inside is tough on the brain cells.”

Joanne Abiola, 46, ran into difficulty in 2017. “I used to work in the IT industry, it was a contract job and it was supposed to be a five-year contract. I lost that and got a new part-time one in a school but the bills kept piling up.”

Abiola turned to a debt management company to help her but soon had bailiffs on her doorstep. “I didn’t talk to anyone about my debts. At one point we had to downsize to a one-bedroom home so that I could minimise my expenses that way.”

Finally she found help with the charity Christians Against Poverty. “I’ve managed to get my debts under control now. I thought my financial problems were something shameful, and I felt so isolated.”

Michelle Welch, 59, the project manager of Compassion Foodbank in Mosside, Manchester, has noticed an increase in families turning to her services as a result of the five-week wait for universal credit payments. “It’s hard to see people like this. Last Friday we had a mother come in who’d been told about our food bank. She [had] never used one before and felt quite embarrassed.

“It’s hard to ask for that help but she’s glad that she came and got some help. You do get people coming in crying. Quite heartbreaking at times,” she added.

Miranda Kaunang, the head of development at FareShare Greater Manchester, has seen a steady flow of people using its services. During lockdown one, between March and August, the food charity supplied over 971 tonnes of food to 250 local charities, reaching 50,000 people. In November alone, they gave out 350 tonnes of food, reaching approximately 60,000 people in need.

Kaunang believes that, while the charity has not experienced a drop in demand, the reasons for the increase in food aid has changed as the pandemic rolls on. “It’s not about people shielding any more and being isolated, it’s about hardship,” she said. “It’s the gap between universal credit, the hole in the ground, and all different kinds of people losing their jobs.”

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Summary | 6 Annotations
Initially unable to get a council flat due to debt, he found a privately rented flat but was receiving threatening letters and calls about his debts. “I was getting debt collectors knocking on my door everyday. I made a payment plan with the help of Christians Against Poverty and spent two years paying it back.
2020/12/09 14:51
He is one of a growing number of people to have experienced extreme poverty in recent years, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The charity found that even before the pandemic, destitution – defined as an inability to afford two or more of shelter, food, heating, lighting, weather-appropriate clothing, or basic toiletries over the past month – had rapidly grown in scale and intensity.
2020/12/09 14:51
Wilson, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression, said he has found it a “very strange time” getting back on his feet during the pandemic. “All these people are losing their jobs and benefits; it makes this lockdown a living hell,” he explains. “Staying inside is tough on the brain cells.”
2020/12/09 14:51
Abiola turned to a debt management company to help her but soon had bailiffs on her doorstep. “I didn’t talk to anyone about my debts. At one point we had to downsize to a one-bedroom home so that I could minimise my expenses that way.” Finally she found help with the charity Christians Against Poverty. “I’ve managed to get my debts under control now. I thought my financial problems were something shameful, and I felt so isolated.”
2020/12/09 14:51
Michelle Welch, 59, the project manager of Compassion Foodbank in Mosside, Manchester, has noticed an increase in families turning to her services as a result of the five-week wait for universal credit payments. “It’s hard to see people like this. Last Friday we had a mother come in who’d been told about our food bank. She [had] never used one before and felt quite embarrassed.Advertisement“It’s hard to ask for that help but she’s glad that she came and got some help. You do get people coming in crying. Quite heartbreaking at times,” she added.
2020/12/09 14:51
Kaunang believes that, while the charity has not experienced a drop in demand, the reasons for the increase in food aid has changed as the pandemic rolls on. “It’s not about people shielding any more and being isolated, it’s about hardship,” she said. “It’s the gap between universal credit, the hole in the ground, and all different kinds of people losing their jobs.”
2020/12/09 14:52