Beyond the ‘vulnerability’ label
New insights from CAP’s Stacked against report
It’s hard to forget the first time I stood in a cold, dark home, face to face with a family who have been going without food and keeping the curtains closed. It’s a reality that hits you hard when you see it first hand, but how much harder is it for the people who have no choice but to live it every day?
Meeting families in debt crisis, you quickly realise that their problems do not originate from an isolated incident or a bill that was a little bigger than expected one month. The people we meet every day at CAP are overwhelmed, not only by debt but by a multitude of tough personal struggles that are stacked against them.
The people we help at CAP have an average of three additional difficulties on top of their debt problems, and half have even more than this.
More than one in ten CAP clients (13%) have five or more vulnerability indicators. These clients are twice as likely to be unable to afford their basic living needs such as food and heating, and 51% have considered or attempted suicide as a way out, compared to 15% of those with no additional vulnerability indicators.
This shows us that where someone faces a multitude of difficulties, their level of need is intensified, and often this comes with an emotional storm that pushes them to the edge. Yet we know that most people do not fully disclose the problems they face to friends and family, let alone lenders and suppliers.
Data from 1,060 respondents to an anonymised survey allows us to show the way different vulnerability indicators overlap and compound each other to create these situations of intensive vulnerability. While every household is different, knowing the common patterns lets us fill in the blanks and approach vulnerability in a more sophisticated way.
In the report we present the top ten additional difficulties CAP clients experience alongside each common vulnerability indicator, such as mental health or physical disability, as well as a few less often talked about. Some of these results are as you might expect, for instance, households struggling with bereavement are significantly more likely to be lone parents. But some might surprise you.
Did you know that households struggling with a bereavement are almost twice as likely to have fallen victim to fraud or financial abuse than those who have not experienced bereavement? How about that two fifths of households with a physical disability are also affected by serious illness? Or that 33% of households that have had a relationship breakdown due to debt are struggling with addiction, compared to 13% who have not.
If we take an all-encompassing view of how household circumstances, ill-health, disability, and personal difficulties create or compound vulnerability, we can appreciate how multiple factors combine to create situations in which customers need a greater level of support. This makes it clear that specific vulnerability factors cannot be dealt with in silos.
Often people in desperately vulnerable situations do not fit our specific criteria. In understanding the complexity of people’s lives, and asking questions to take us beyond labels, we better appreciate how their vulnerability impacts their interactions with products and services and how we can, within our power, provide the best service.
For CAP client Tina, a series of abusive relationships, a plethora of health problems, clinical depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder meant she had nothing left to give. She was living minute to minute and felt that ending it all was the only way to stop the demands for money she could not afford. Having someone who wanted to listen to her made all the difference and step by step she was lifted a little bit further. Watch her story for yourself here.
‘Not once has any person from CAP said, “this is your doing, this is what you’ve done”. Every step has lifted me a little bit further. It’s so nice to get up in the morning and see sunlight instead of a dark room.
After I went debt free, everyone was genuinely pleased that I’d done it as well. Without them and the support of everyone else, I would not be debt free. I would not be here. I can now start rebuilding my life.’ - Tina
Let’s empower our teams to step away from the script, and show empathy and flexibility. Let’s instigate collaboration across departments to make sure that policies to support people work in practice, and that products and services are inclusive by design. We have made a good start, but there is much more ground to cover. It’s your move.
Director of External Affairs
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