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Poverty: A beginner's guide

Admitting you need help can be hard, but no hole in the ground is going to open up and swallow you. What's more, you're not alone. Accommodation, benefits, food, clothes and more - here's where to look. 

October 11 2022, 16.32pm

We’ve been through a lot recently.  We have the biggest energy, fuel, cost of living and public service crises in living memory. Many of us wake up worrying about bills as interest and mortgage rates rise. If you live on overdrafts and credit cards, times are going to get tougher. 

If you’re new to being poor, you’re not alone and support is available. Admitting you need help can be hard, but no hole in the ground is going to open up and swallow you. Swap your cloak of pride for a raincoat - you might have to wait in a few lines. Get ready to make new friends, too. The chat you hear in queues, like news of new food banks, might be the information you need that day.

Here are some tips to help you out:

Accommodation - I know it’s obvious, but if you’re behind on your mortgage or rent, you need to tell someone. Your landlord, an advisory service, a friend, anyone. It won’t go away and it won’t get better. If you don’t want to tell your landlord or your personal circle, your local church, Citizens’ Advice Bureau and even GP will speak with you confidentially and signpost the right help for you. They will help you negotiate with creditors, make reasonable minimum payment arrangements, and may even assist with old debt. There’s also help available with Council Tax reduction and Service Charge arrears - just check out your local council's website.

Benefits - Did you know that over £15 billion remains unclaimed every year? The quickest and easiest way to find out what you’re entitled to is to check out Entitledto. They’re an independent organisation who help everyone access benefits.

Energy - Everyone will receive £400 towards their energy bills this winter. This consists of six payments that are sent directly to household accounts. You should also contact your energy provider and ask for help. Explain your situation and find out what schemes are available. EDF, for example, offers financial assistance to its customers through the Energy Customer Support Fund. There are also vouchers for pre-payment meters - up to £49 per meter three times a year. Just speak to your local CAB.

Water - Thames Water offers a scheme called WaterHelp where you can get up to 50% off your bills. Most large companies offer these services, even if they don’t advertise them. Ask. If you need them, use them!

Food - I can’t believe I’m writing this in 2022, but if you need help getting food, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, church, GP, Salvation Army, or check your local council's ‘Find Support Services’ page. The fabulous Trussell Trust also runs more than half of the food banks in the UK and it's a good source of information. Local community meals and kitchens where people provide meals to those in need are great, too. You might even be able to start a cooperative with your family or neighbours and club together to buy staples like bread, flour, pasta, rice, and juice. 

Clothing - Most regions now have clothing banks for adults and children. They’re often housed in local churches and community centres near you. You can pick up some clothes, a new coat, shoes or anything else for free or a small donation. There are online groups where people offer things for the price of postage, too. Second-hand clothing is the environmentally friendliest way to consume and you’d be surprised how many new items are donated to these projects. You can also swap clothes with friends and family - someone else’s trash could be your treasure!

Hygiene - Morrisons have come to the aid of women everywhere. Women can simply contact customer service and ask for "Sandy" for a free bag of sanitary and hygiene items. The wonderful Hygiene Bank also works with community partners nationwide as does the Women’s Environmental Network

White Goods - your local council has a Household Support Fund for larger emergency expenses.

Helpful Apps -

Olio - this food waste fighting app offers supermarket, restaurant and domestic food for free - and there’s a section for dry goods too

Top Cashback - get cashback for items you buy online - compare supermarket prices for the best deal

Too Good to Go - eat well and fight food waste - grab deals from local food retailers and restaurants by picking up their end-of-day stock

Local WhatsApp groups - don't ignore these. People often offer free and discounted items and you’ll connect with people in similar situations.

And remember that if this is happening to you, it's also happening to a lot of people around you. We can get through this - and to a better place - together.