Material poverty causes devastating worry and has emotional as well as physical impact

Food, clothing, shelter, comfortable furnishings and warmth are things most of us tend to take for granted. But for many people in this country, a crisis like an accident, illness, or job loss, a tragedy like the death of a loved one, or unfortunate circumstance such as growing up in a deprived background and not having the chance for a better life, can lead into a life of poverty.

The St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) is a Catholic charity which helps thousands of people experiencing material poverty every year. In its ‘Who Cares?’ awareness campaign this September, the charity is raising awareness of different forms of poverty such as loneliness, hunger, material poverty and sickness and showing how the SVP cares about all these areas.

This week the campaign focuses on material poverty, which can have serious repercussions on health and wellbeing and devastate people’s lives. Last year the SVP’s 8,000 volunteer members provided material assistance on more than 104,000 occasions. They provide furniture, appliances, money, transport, food, clothing, and fuel bill assistance as well as friendship and advice to people on the margins of society.

Take for example Peter and Farah who came to the UK to look for a better life for themselves and their two daughters aged 8 and 4. Farah was pregnant and they looked forward to a fresh start. Bringing with them several months’ savings they felt prepared to make a new life in Leeds.

Both Peter and Farah were unable to find stable work, and Peter took on two jobs with zero hours contracts. Both Farah and Peter did not want to claim benefits and tried to make ends meet. By the time their savings were almost gone, Farah had given birth and the couple reluctantly applied for support. Their benefits claims were delayed as they had problems providing correct documentation, leaving the family with their money nearly running out and living hand to mouth on Peter’s wages.

When they were referred to the SVP by a health visitor who had been trying to help arrange child support benefits Peter had not had a shift in over a week. She told us that they were prioritising feeding their children. Even though Farah was breastfeeding she had only eaten plain bread for the last two days, while Peter had barely eaten anything.

The SVP was able to provide food for the entire family, as well as toiletries including nappies for the baby. We also provided baby toys and warm baby clothes for the approaching winter. Their health visitor told us “Thank you so much for responding so quickly, the food and clothes will make such a difference and Farah will be so delighted.”

We then put Peter in touch with the Job Club to help him find more stable work, update his CV and get advice on how to requalify in his field to meet UK guidelines. They were also referred to an SVP benefits worker to support the family in claiming the child benefits to which they were entitled. Their health visitor told us “They will only claim until they get back on their feet; Farah and Peter are both so embarrassed that they are in this situation but are so grateful for this support and a hand up to let them move forwards.”

SVP National President Adrian Abel says: “Peter and Farah are just two of the people in need helped by the SVP. Material poverty causes devastating worry and has emotional as well as physical impact. Children and older people who are particularly vulnerable can suffer greatly from the effects of not having a safe and comfortable furnished home, warmth or food and clothing. That’s why the SVP is very attentive to helping people who are without basic necessities. As well as our members visiting and befriending people in need and offering support, we also have Community Support Centres which provide services like affordable goods, debt advice, counselling and vocational education to lift people out of poverty. With more resources we could meet our target to expand these activities.”

Throughout September the SVP’s ‘Who Cares?’ campaign will focus on loneliness, hunger, material poverty and sickness – all areas that the SVP cares about and in which it is active. If you would like to join or support the SVP please telephone 0207 703 3030, visit www.svp.org.uk or email info@svp.org.uk.