‘Petrified’ single father breaks down over debts and bills

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The cost of living crisis has led to more and more families across the country choosing whether to heat their homes or pay for food. According to Resolution Foundation’s predictions, the poorest quarter of households in Briton will see their real incomes drop by six percent by next year. However, new research from the Trussell Trust has found 40 percent of people claiming benefits are already skipping meals to survive. A Channel 4 documentary followed three Britons struggling to make ends meet, including one single father on Universal Credit and in debt.

The Channel 4 documentary, Broke: Britain’s Debt Emergency, focused on Citizens Advice, a free independent service that helps those in need, including those struggling to repay insurmountable debts. Data the organisation collected found a “client on Universal Credit had £15 at the end of each month, after paying monthly outgoings. This year, they have minus 72p.”

Paulo, a single dad to his nine-year-old son living in Salford, Greater Manchester, received Universal Credit and child benefits as his sole income after he gave up his hotel work to care for his son full-time. 

He told the programme that he had bailiffs knocking on his door, trying to take all his son’s birthday and Christmas presents due to the multiple debts he owed. As a result, Paulo said he was paranoid and fearful, often curtain twitching and checking who is outside. 

He then made a call to Citizens Advice, but started to break down as he told the debt advisor: “The bailiffs are going to come and I’m nervous, you know? I have nothing in the fridge at all. My electricity is down to £2, I need to get myself out of this situation.” 

Unfortunately, Paulo had so many debts – such as council tax arrears, utility bills, and unpaid fines – he did not know which debt the bailiffs were trying to collect as he was advised to meet a repayment agreement with the lenders. According to the documentary, he was being chased by multiple lenders as his debts had been sold to debt collection agencies. 

Paulo told the programme that he struggled to pay for all the building costs, and said: “Trying to keep on top of it all is physically impossible. It’s just mounting up and mounting up… You can’t survive, that’s the fear I have, being a single dad… I just don’t know what to do anymore and I am just petrified.”

According to the government website, if you are single and over 25 you receive £334.91 a month plus £290 in child benefits if your child is born after April 2017, totalling £624.91. In comparison, the ONS found the average weekly earnings were estimated at £611 for total pay, and £568 for regular pay in June this year. 

The Trussell Trust, a charity that has a network of food banks across the country, has seen an 81 percent increase in usage compared to five years ago. Not only this, but according to its website, 18 percent of those referred to the Trussell Trust’s food banks during the pandemic were single parents. This was twice more than the rate for the general population. 

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust has said: “How can anyone in this country stay warm and dry and buy food on just £248 a month after rent? People struggling in extreme poverty are pushed to the doors of food banks because they don’t have enough money to survive. Hunger in the UK isn’t about food – it’s about people not being able to afford the basics.

“We know we can change this. We need to change the conversation around poverty and take action together. We need government at all levels to commit to ending the need for food banks once and for all and to develop a plan to do so. It’s time for the government to make this a priority – to recognise that it must be an essential part of their levelling up agenda to work towards a hunger-free future where we can all afford the basics.”

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Paulo cried as he told the interviewers that by the time he has paid for bills with the £600 he receives he is left with nothing. He continued: “It’s not fair on [my son]…That’s the stress I’m under at the moment. It’s too much.”

Reports suggest Prime Minister Liz Truss had planned to raise benefits in line with wages as opposed to inflation, which the Legatum Institute suggested would push an extra 450,000 people into poverty.

She is currently under pressure to U-turn on this and instead raise benefits and Universal Credit in line with inflation.

According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), 71 percent of people who receive Universal Credit take out debts from illegal money lenders, or loan sharks, to make ends meet. But this comes at a price due to the loans carrying high-interest rates. Additionally, the documentary found 45 percent of those who take out illegal loans do so to pay for everyday costs. 

Broke: Britain’s Debt Emergency: Dispatches is available on All 4. 

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