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Debt charity report warns poverty is 'destroying lives' during pandemic in Scotland

By Alan Beresford

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POVERTY is destroying lives in Scotland during the Covid-19 pandemic, a report by a debt counselling charity has warned.

CAP National Director for Scotland Emma Jackson. Picture: CAP
CAP National Director for Scotland Emma Jackson. Picture: CAP

The ‘Our Story’ report by Christians Against Poverty (CAP) shows it would take Scottish client households an average of 43 years to pay off their debts without going through an insolvency process. That’s the longest in the UK and compares to places like the East of England where the average is significantly lower at 20 years.

The average peak debt for a CAP client household in Scotland in 2020 was £19,369 which is higher than the UK average of £17,917.

CAP clients were asked about their lives before they got debt help. Over a quarter (28 per cent) considered or attempted suicide before seeking debt help while over a third (37 per cent) sacrificed meals because they could not afford to eat.

Over half (58 per cent) felt trapped in poverty with nobody to turn to when they had a problem

In Scotland, the average CAP client household income (after housing costs) sits at just £11,895, which is less than half of the UK as a whole with the national average sitting at (after housing costs) £24,900. The two main reasons stated for people falling into debt were low income (20 per cent) and mental health (18 per cent).

Council tax continues to be a key area of concern with 40 per cent of CAP clients in Scotland in arrears compared to 29 per cent in England and just seven per cent in Northern Ireland.

Sharon Bell from StepChange Scotland said: “Council Tax bills are also a real problem for our clients and have been for a number of years.

"Forty-three per cent are behind on their Council Tax when they first contact us. Our most recent polling (YouGov, February 2021) indicated that around five per cent of all Scots, 220,000 adults, have fallen behind on Council Tax.”

CAP Scotland’s National Director, Emma Jackson, says: “This report gives just a glimpse of how much the Covid-19 pandemic has affected people’s lives.

"I believe there are hundreds of thousands more families in debt across Scotland still suffering in silence.

"With the upcoming Scottish election it’s crucial for problem debt to remain front and centre for the new Government as they make decisions affecting those living in poverty.”

During the pandemic, debt help charities like CAP are continuing to work tirelessly to free people from the grip of poverty. CAP has a network of 24 Debt Centres which cover places including Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

They have helped hundreds of clients across Scotland to become debt free despite the pandemic. Working through local Debt Centres to provide free, FCA accredited advice in the community to bring hope where it is needed most.

Ms Jackson added: “Despite all the challenges of the last year, we want everyone to know there is hope.

"There are charities out there who can offer free, expert help out of debt. Getting debt help can quickly relieve the pressure, ease the strain on people's mental health and help them get their lives back on track.”

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