The relationship between poverty and debt is undeniable and obvious. It goes without saying that those struggling to make ends meet are easy prey for the lenders, and desperation can make someone on the breadline agree to any terms and conditions. And the cycle of poverty and debt can continue for many years until something breaks.
And of course there is a link between benefits and debt. Our benefits system may well be in need of an overall – Universal Credit and all that – but at least there is a benefits system supporting the financially needy. And millions are well able to budget effectively and spend carefully through what isn’t an easy experience. Companies helping those in debt are often confronted with the casualties of the system – the late or disputed benefits payments, the withdrawal of certain benefits at little notice – and then of course there are those who simply can’t manage or control their spending. And it seems we in this country have a fascination of those who are in the benefits system, with a special abhorrence for those who abuse the system – those who benefit too much from benefits.
Just in the past months there have been a plethora of TV programmes. “Life on the dole”, “Benefit Beaters”, “The Big Benefits Handout”, “Battling with benefits” and “Breadline Brummies”, “Benefits Britain” is not an exhaustive list.
In one commercial break on a daytime TV programme, the adverts were for short-term loans (3 of them), charitable giving (2 of them) and PPI claims. And that was it – money related hooks for the captive TV audience.
Maybe a similar number of programmes about say tax-avoiders would be too hot to handle for the programme-makers (taking on the powerful) or maybe it wouldn’t satisfy our sympathy or anger as we watch people suffer or exploit the benefits game. But for many people caught in poverty-related debt, this is no light entertainment issue – it’s very serious – and for some, a matter of life or death.