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The burden of debt

Claire Pearce-Crawford reflects on debt and a month of advice work.

It’s February 2020. It’s cold and snow is on the way. As I sit in my warm, cosy home, I pause, to give thought to how lucky, I really am, I shall explain why.

I will not bore you with my job title, or how busy I am, as truthfully, none of this matters when it comes to the tragedy my team see on a daily basis of those living with debt. ‘In-work poverty’ has risen dramatically in Wales with estimations that one in three families are just one pay check away from loosing their home.

Much of the story I tell today will take you back to the days of ‘The Poor Law’, work houses, and desperate hunger, yet its 2020? Right?

What if I told you that in the last month we have supported;

  • A lady who was cutting bed sheets up to use as sanitary wear
  • A family who sat in their coats at home as they had no heating
  • A lady who had terminal cancer, but was still being told to look for work
  • A child who had to wait until the next day to eat at breakfast club in school
  • A mother who could not afford to buy her baby milk
  • A dad who didn’t eat two days, as it was half term (yes, holiday hunger exists)
  • A student who considered suicide due to pressure from ‘student loans’.

Every one of these families have significant debt issues. Debt isn’t just about ‘owing money to another person’. It’s more than that, it’s:

  • Choosing to eat or heat your home
  • Fearing what the postman may bring
  • Being petrified to open your front door as it may be a bailiff
  • Feeling hopeless, embarrassed, guilty, stressed
  • Suffering anxiety & depression caused by continuous worry
  • Considering suicide as the only way out.

Suicide is considered by almost 50% of people struggling with debt in the UK, sadly the burden can just become too much. My advisors are all trained in ‘applied suicide intervention skills training’ and work with tenants to create a plan that will support their immediate safety.

In my team advice services have increased 100%. The anxiety tenants are suffering about falling behind on bills, and having no family or friends to help, means that mental health conditions are exasperated too. My team work tirelessly to sustain tenancies and alleviate these adverse experiences, whilst providing a direct link between health and social care, welfare and debt. We constantly challenge unscrupulous debt collectors and work with the Department of Work and Pensions to secure correct financial entitlements.

The most important part of my advisors’ job is to listen, understand and help our tenants make informed decisions, whilst sustaining their tenancy and family.

I’m extremely proud of the fact in 2018/19 we were the only social landlord that did NOT evict anyone for rent arrears, but we did put £2.5 million pounds in tenants’ pockets, and helped 40 tenants find long term work. We are not ‘just a landlord’!

If I’ve shocked you, I apologise, but when I sit in my warm, cosy home, I pause, to give thought to how lucky, I really am……

Claire Pearce-Crawford is income and inclusion manager at Melin Homes. This blog was originally published in Public Health Network Cymru’s e-bulletin


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