The SVP is holding an awareness campaign entitled “Happy Families?” this month

Families in debt often feel like they have nowhere to turn. Endless pay day loans sap them of crucial funds that would otherwise go to heating their homes or paying essential bills. Parents feel isolated, and desperate and often find it difficult to cope.

It’s in circumstances like this where the 10,000 volunteer members of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) step in to offer help and support. And to highlight the work they do, and the plight of some of the people they help, the SVP is holding an awareness campaign entitled “Happy Families?” throughout this month of September. This week, the campaign focuses on Mr In Debt, a father who can’t pay the bills. Posters featuring the character are going up in churches across the country, to draw parishioners’ attention to the stress and hardship endured by people who can’t afford to pay for essentials for their families.

For many of the SVP’s 80,000 beneficiaries, the charity is their only source of hope in desperate situations. For example, not long ago, SVP members visited the home of a single father with three small children aged seven, five and three. The original request had been to help provide some food for the family. While sitting at the table they noticed a considerable amount of mail, most of it unopened because the father was unable to read or write. The family had been going cold at night because the father didn’t know where to go for help. The gas had been cut off, so the members intervened on the family’s behalf to agree on an affordable amount to pay back. They went through the same process with the electricity company while reassuring the father that all would soon be well. He was advised to have a fixed amount deducted from his wages, which he did. His simple request for food assistance had revealed a far deeper need.

As well as visiting and supporting people in their homes, the SVP also runs debt counselling and advice at its support centres in Bradford and Leeds. James O’Brien is a debt advisor at CHAS St Vincent’s in Bradford. James describes: “We do home visits, or see people in appointments. Often they are in dire financial situations. Their debts can vary from an endless cycle of pay day loans to rent arrears where they are focusing on the wrong debts – paying the Provident man £20 every week, but not paying the landlord. Here at CHAS St Vincent’s we will put in place an arrangement for paying priority payments (water, electricity, gas) to help families secure their essentials. When we first see them, some people can be depressed by the whole situation, and some clients are in a very dark place. We take them as we find them. We always ask for feedback and often this indicates how stressed families are when they come to us. One woman told us: ‘I was suicidal but I don’t have to hide behind my couch any more. Thank you.’ We can make a real difference to them and it’s very rewarding.”

Through home visits by members, and Support Centres run by volunteers and paid staff, the SVP helps people out of poverty and deprivation and gives them hope and a second chance. Awareness month runs until the end of September, and each week will highlight a different member of a family typical of the people the SVP helps.

To find out more, contact Anita Boniface by emailing AnitaB@svp.org.uk, telephone 0207 703 3030 or visit www.svp.org.uk.