Under the rubble of debt and poverty — CAP’s 2024 client report

Helen Ganney
Helen Ganney

External Affairs Relationship Manager

Poverty is not going anywhere unless we do something about it 

This week, we published our 2024 client report. Those who shared their experiences via the annual client survey have told us what it is like to live with the crushing weight of debt and poverty.

Our title — Under the rubble of debt and poverty comes from a quote from Toni, who said that working with CAP to address her debt situation felt like a rock that had been pressing me down for years had been lifted off my back’. Toni is a CAP client who is repaying her debts through a Debt Management Plan with CAP and has shared her story of how being in debt affected her life and that of her family. From hiding behind the sofa when there was a knock at the door, to wondering if her family’s life would be better if she was no longer around, Toni’s experiences reflect that of many of our clients, and brings to life the stories behind the stats. 

I often wondered if my children would have a better life if I wasn’t in it. On more than one occasion I attempted to end my life. 

Toni, on how debt pushed her to devastating lengths 

It’s been more than two years since the cost of living began to rise sharply, and the impact continues to be felt. Debt, and the additional challenges that it brings, is burying people under its weight. Nearly two thirds of our clients — 59% — have an income below the poverty line, and 60% have to borrow money to pay bills and household essentials. 

Fifteen percent of our clients who responded to the survey have skipped meals at least daily, and 46% have considered or attempted suicide before coming to work with CAP. And concerningly, 90% of new clients in 2023 have lost sleep over worrying about debt. 

We know that using credit to help us when we need to make larger purchases can help us smooth’ that cost over a longer period. But if we need to borrow money regularly to cover an inadequate income, or to pay off other debts, this can push us into an endless cycle of debt. 

Borrowing to survive*

  • 60% have borrowed money to cover household bills
  • 58% have borrowed money to buy food & clothes
  • 48% have borrowed money to make payment on other debts
  • 41% needed to borrow money for unexpected costs such as repairs
  • 36% needed money to pay for events such as Christmas or birthday gifts
  • 33% borrowed money to buy furniture or electrical goods.

*Data is from CAP clients in 2023.

Forms of credit used by CAP clients

We know that before seeking help from CAP, a large proportion of CAP’s new clients in 2023 took out credit to cover living costs.

Credit Card 
Personal loan 
Close friend/​family
Budgeting or social loan (IDWP)
BNPL digital options 
Store card 

When there’s not enough coming in to pay the essentials, you can’t budget your way out

47% of CAP clients have an unsustainable — or negative — budget, even after receiving debt advice. This means that before a single penny is offered or paid to their debts, they still do not have enough to survive. Household bills and daily living costs exceed the income of nearly one in two of our clients. And despite some recent reductions in inflation and some prices coming down, our clients are still left struggling to make ends meet. 

We need to see a critical change in society, including the need for liveable incomes, a review of benefit deductions, easier access to debt advice, and an end to the unjust link between ill-health and poverty. 

In 2023, 15,972 people called CAP’s helpline to ask about debt help, the most common reason being low income and mental ill-health. The reasons clients give for borrowing also speak volumes:

  • 60% borrowed to pay household bills

  • 58% of CAP clients had to borrow money to pay for food, clothing or other living costs

  • 48% had to borrow to pay off other debts

It’s no surprise that bearing the weight of debt and poverty has long term consequences on our wellbeing. As well as the daily challenge to buy enough food for your family, and to heat and light your home, many of our clients find that they struggle with their mental health as a result of living long term with debt and poverty. 
  • 88% of respondents said that debt caused them to feel lonely
  • 88% also said that debt made them feel like they had no one to turn to 
  • 67% said that they did not feel that they could talk openly to friends and family
  • 46% of those who responded to our survey, said that they had considered, or attempted to take their own life as a result of being in debt. 

Now more than ever, CAP’s services are a vital tool in the fight against UK poverty. As well as supporting families and individuals, we are committed to taking action on a wider scale. We want to amplify the voices of all those facing debt and poverty in spaces where they most need to be heard, campaigning for change and refusing to sit back and accept the status quo. 

We provide holistic debt help

In 2023, 8,306 people were supported by CAP on their journey out of debt, and 2,292 people became debt free. 

1339 people received emergency help — such as food shops and phone top ups — from CAP alongside practical support to clear their debts

We support people beyond debt help.

We support people in finding work - 743 people were supported by a CAP Job Club in 2023.

We help people navigate life on a low income - 790 people engaged with a CAP Life Skills group in 2023. 

We equip people to manage their money well - in 2023 424 local churches provided free, expert money coaching sessions to equip people with the skills and confidence to take greater control of their money

Boosting income — Our online benefits calculator, created in partnership with Turn2Us offers everyone the opportunity to check that we’re getting all of the benefits that we’re entitled to. In 2023, 15,830 users identified additional income averaging £565 a month. For many people, that would completely change how they are living. Altogether, more than £107 million was found in extra unclaimed benefits. You can find this tool at capuk.org/checkbenefits

Calling for change

We offer expert, FCA-regulated free debt advice through our service, but we know that seeing an end to UK poverty will take more than that. We are determined to see changes in the systems and structures that push people into poverty and keep them trapped there.

We campaign tirelessly, carry out research, publish reports and input into many consultations each year, including those on low incomes, social security and energy costs. 

Here’s snapshot of our current focus and policy asks:

  • Ensure household incomes are adequate to cover the cost of life’s essentials

  • Urging all political parties to make a commitment to tackle UK poverty

  • Collaborating with other UK charities and organisations as part of the Let’s End Poverty movement

  • Calling for regulation of the Buy Now Pay Later industry

  • Pushing for additional safeguards for those who are being migrated on to Universal Credit

  • Calling on a Government funded help to repay’ scheme to support people struggling to repay energy arrears

  • Campaigning and successfully achieving changes to widen access to Debt Relief Orders and remove the fees in England and Wales, and we are continuing to push for the criteria to be reviewed in Northern Ireland. 

Calls to action

  1. Support CAP financially — if you or your company would like to find out more about supporting CAP financially, please contact our External Affairs team via [email protected].

  2. Stay in the loop — we’d love you to join us in our work. To stay up-to-date with our latest campaigns and policy recommendations, you can find more information at capuk.org/updates.

  3. Signpost people for help — you can help identify those in need of support and signpost them to CAP or another free debt help organisation. Those in need of help can call CAP’s helpline on 0800 328 0006 or visit capuk.org/debthelp.