``Low-income families are going without beds, cookers, meals, new clothes and other essential items as they struggle to cope with huge debts run up to pay domestic bills, according to a survey highlighting the cost-of-living crisis experienced by the UK's poorest households.


The pressure of coping with low income and debt frequently triggered mental illness or exacerbated existing conditions, with more than a third of clients reporting that they had considered suicide and three-quarters visiting a GP for debt-related problems. More than half were subsequently prescribed medication or therapy.


Experts said the survey highlighted the extreme hardship faced by the "new destitute" -- people on low incomes who might in the past have been able to rely on a welfare safety net to help them through financial shocks but who now were forced to go into debt to survive, leaving them struggling to afford even the basics.

Debt had a crushing effect on living standards, the CAP survey found, with one in 10 clients unable to afford to buy or repair a bed, washing machine, TV, sofa or fridge. Roughly the same proportion could afford to acquire furniture only on punitive rent-to-buy terms, for example paying £6 a week to acquire a bed and mattress over a set three-year period.


Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of Heriot Watt University, the co-author of groundbreaking research into destitution, told the Guardian: "The new destitute are citizens who would previously have managed to avoid absolute destitution with the help of the welfare safety net. But the level of working age benefits is now so low that people barely managing to get by can easily find themselves in a position where they can't afford even the basic essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean."

There are widespread concerns about rising pressure on living standards for low-income households as wages fall, working-age social security benefits remain frozen and inflation rises. The survey's findings indicate that households are increasingly turning to high-cost credit to stay afloat, which CAP said was "an unsustainable solution".

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