Christian charity sounds illegal loan shark warning amid cost of living crisis

Young homeless boy sleeping on a bridge

Fuel, energy and food prices have soared in recent weeks as the economic toll of war in Ukraine adds to already high inflation.

Paul Livingstone, Northern Ireland Partnership Manager for charity Christians Against Poverty – a UK debt advice organization – expressed concern that more people could find themselves in serious financial difficulty .

He also warned that people in financial difficulty in Northern Ireland are being forced to skip meals so their children can eat or go without warm homes to save money.

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“We are absolutely worried,” he told the News Letter.

“The concern is that for those who were able to get by before, who had a budget set aside for oil and electricity, that when prices rise that much, they will start borrowing.”

Earlier this week, the News Letter revealed that some credit unions were offering reduced rates on loans for home heating, amid a doubling in delivery costs in the fortnight since Russia launched its invasion from Ukraine.

Mr Livingstone, however, warned that some people would find themselves relying on less “responsible” sources of credit.

“Credit unions doing preferential rates is fantastic, but it’s still a loan that has to be repaid,” he said.

“It would be a real concern that people start borrowing.

“And then, of course, there are people who don’t have access to responsible borrowing, who can then look elsewhere — payday loans, credit cards, and even illegal money lenders.”

Mr Livingstone also warned of the human impact of financial hardship, saying: ‘It can impact in so many different ways. Clients suffer from stress, anxiety and worry which can manifest as physical and mental illness. We have a high proportion of clients who would see the GP and may need medication.

“The figure, from our survey, is that around a third of clients would have considered or attempted suicide because things got so bad.

“It can also have a real impact on your day-to-day life. We see customers who will skip meals to ensure their children are fed, who will turn off the heating or see the electricity go offline.

He continued: “The breakdown of a relationship is important. We see people going into debt after a relationship breaks up, but going into debt can put a strain on a relationship and lead to it breaking up, so you have this cycle.

He added: “It has an impact on all levels. It’s health, well-being, it’s not leaving home because you feel embarrassed or ashamed. People can shut themselves off from friends and family.

Speaking at the party leaders’ meeting in Stormont, Mr Livingstone urged local government to ‘make poverty a priority’.

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