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Report: vulnerable households forced to use credit to survive

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Single parents, people with disabilities and those facing terminal illness are among groups at most risk of needing to use credit to cover essential costs to stay alive this winter. 

According to the Lifelines to Safety report from UK debt, budgeting and policy experts, Christians Against Poverty (CAP), 60% of their clients with a terminal illness and 44% of those with a physical disability have been forced to use credit as a financial support lifeline.

Across the charity, a total of 88% of CAP’s clients had turned to credit because of a financial or personal crisis.

CAP’s report highlights the need for further financial lifelines to be provided to vulnerable people facing a desperate winter, so they don’t have to rely on credit to survive. It also highlights the extent to which people are being forced to use credit to pay for essentials to live. 42% of CAP’s single parent clients and 47% of those who’ve experienced abuse have had to turn to credit in a crisis, often pushed into borrowing due to unexpected household bills, repairs or the loss of a job or relationship.

A CAP client’s experience: Stephen

A man looks into an empty food cupboard in his kitchen

Christians Against Poverty client, Stephen, worked on a land based oil rig for 26 years but after suffering spinal damage in a car accident and having two strokes he’s now sadly unable to work.

Living on Universal Credit and PIP, it is difficult for him to make ends meet and his debts spiralled due to not having enough money to cover his needs.

He’s received free debt help from CAP and recently became debt free but being on Universal Credit, he’s finding it difficult to afford the rising costs and worries about the winter ahead.

It has got harder and harder with gas, electric and food going up. You start noticing your money is going nowhere. CAP have been brilliant as they put your mind at rest and give you all the advice you need. But with the bills increasing now, it’s getting worse. 

I’m really frightened about the gas bill coming now. When winter comes everything is going up – that will be the end of us. I think a lot of people will be freezing to death because you’re choosing between food and heating.”

Alongside their own client data, polling commissioned by CAP from YouGov has revealed that almost 1 in 5 (19%) of adults in the UK, amounting to 10 million people, are struggling to keep up financially with rising costs. 

Households across all income levels have been using their savings where they have any, but those on low incomes are particularly at risk. A quarter (25%) of those earning less than £15,000 a year have fallen behind on their household bills. Many of these struggle to access traditional low cost borrowing options, pushing them towards buy now pay later’ deals, as well as making them much more likely to have to borrow from friends and family.

A comment from our Director of External Affairs, Gareth McNab

People are facing a perfect storm of financial pressures, which has been increasingly driving those on the lowest incomes to seek credit wherever they can, just to pay for essentials. 

CAP’s Lifelines to Safety report reveals the desperate struggle many households on a low income currently face and the lack of financial lifelines they have available to avoid falling into serious problem debt and to help them survive this winter.

It highlights the difficulties that are leaving people with little choice but to turn to credit as a lifeline to pay for essentials, such as food, energy and household bills.

Our concern is that there will be an increase in the number of people in vulnerable circumstances with no option but to use inappropriate, insecure or high cost credit. In a just & compassionate society, no one should have to rely on credit of any kind to meet their basic needs.

This is why we are calling on the Government to prioritise putting in place adequate safeguards against families having to use risky credit options as their only lifeline against facing destitution this winter.”

What can we do?

In order to protect households at risk of being cut adrift over the coming months, CAP is asking the Government to:

  • Unfreeze Local Housing Allowance so it is up rated with rising costs in 2023 along with benefits and the benefit cap.

  • Expand the Government-provided Help to Save savings account to all Universal Credit claimants, and make it easier to access through things like Credit Unions. This will give those on low incomes or unstable employment greater access to reputable and low-cost forms of credit.

  • Urgently introduce regulation for unregulated digital buy now pay later’ products. With the rapid expansion of big tech companies in this arena, new regulation will be vital to protecting people who turn to this option.

  • Expand the statutory Mental Health Breathing Space scheme to Northern Ireland and to all households across the UK receiving a terminal illness diagnosis. This will give people a 60-day respite from legal action by creditors and allow them time to make reasonable adjustments.

  • Introduce two new pilots alongside the existing no-interest loan scheme (NILS) pilot. First, a digital fast access no-interest loan scheme, and also a no-interest loan scheme dedicated to the provision of white goods. These will offer an alternative to people having to take out high-cost credit to pay for emergency replacement of vital household items. 


CAP’s Lifelines to Safety report will be released on Wednesday 23 November 2022.

The report draws on three data sets; A survey of 750 current CAP clients, a UK poll conducted by YouGov of 2,270 adults across the UK and detailed case studies based on real life experiences of CAP clients.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is a UK charity determined to reduce poverty by delivering free debt help, money management education, life skills courses and job clubs, all through local churches.

Find out more about CAP at capuk.org/about-us.

CAP is committed to its services being available to all individuals regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. 

CAP Senior PR Officer, Joe Beardsall: [email protected] , 07449 113182

CAP PR Manager, Susan Littlemore: [email protected] , 07449 167058

PR team: [email protected]

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'
Ruth, Co-Debt Centre Manager

We urgently need your support to reach every person in poverty.

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'