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Do you know what poverty looks like?

calendar21 March 2019

Claire Cowles's avatar Claire Cowles

Do you know what poverty looks like?

I’ve not been out to film with a client of ours for a while, so despite the four-and-a-half hour journey to Kent being an uncomfortable prospect at seven months pregnant, I was pretty keen to be interviewing Tina the next day.

We drove onto a pretty nice, spacious new build estate that didn’t ‘look’ like the stereotypical image of UK poverty. When we turned into Tina’s street, suddenly the feeling of space and luxury was gone – basic brick built terraces were crammed together in one cul-de-sac. Nobody on the estate would have reason to ever look at this corner, unless they lived here. Even the way housing estates are laid out contributes to the way UK poverty remains hidden from view, leaving people isolated.

We knocked on the door and waited. Tina’s face greeted us and what struck me immediately was the depth of life you could physically see in her eyes. She was smiling, welcoming, friendly and whilst I knew what I was seeing was genuine joy, I also knew it was preceded by a life of unimaginable difficulty. You see, Tina’s life makes anything I’ve thought was difficult seem like an absolute breeze. I felt an immediate sense of privilege to be standing in this lady’s house.

A survivor of life-long domestic abuse, Tina was living with clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, fibromyalgia and a crumbling hip. Just before contacting CAP, she was on suicide watch. On describing how she fled her abusive relationship, her words to me were ‘I left that relationship with nothing. Well, nothing apart from the debts.’ And so we see how she eventually connected with CAP.

Tina is an example of what vulnerability truly looks like amongst those living in UK poverty. Our latest report Stacked against  has uncovered that the term ‘vulnerability’ represents something inconceivably more complex than perhaps we realise. We’ve discovered that families experiencing bereavement are almost twice as likely to fall prey to fraud or financial abuse, and that a third of households that have suffered a relationship breakdown are also struggling with addiction.

As Tina opened up in the four hours we were with her, she revealed just what a difference it had made to receive CAP’s help: ‘Not once has any person from CAP said, “this is your doing”. Every step has lifted me a little bit further. It’s so nice to get up in the morning and see sunlight. Without CAP and the support of the church, I would not be debt free. I would not be here.’

By the end of the interview, Tina and I were declaring we were ‘BFFs’ and she was making me promise to let her know when my baby arrives. A week later, a parcel arrived in the office. Tina had handmade me a hanging sign saying ‘It’s not how big the house is, it’s how happy the home is’.

I can truly say that Tina’s home is a happy one. But whilst her debts may be solved, her physical and mental health battles are still very real. Looking at Tina’s life, she is a mind-blowing example of God‘s joy and peace that pass understanding.

On the back of the findings of Stacked against, we’re calling on companies to recognise the ways they can make changes to their services in order to support those facing multiple complex needs.

Claire Cowles is our Communications Manager, passionate about seeing justice and freedom for those who have the biggest battles on their hands.

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