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25 June 2012

Debt-counselling ‘saving people from suicide’ in Northern Ireland

Debt-counselling ‘saving people from suicide’ in Northern Ireland

New research out today suggests that up to 30 lives in Northern Ireland are being saved from suicide every month thanks to a growing debt counselling charity.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) partners with local churches to give unique face-to-face, long-term help to people in financial crisis.

Today at Stormont, a gathering of politicians, health professionals and creditors heard how Northern Irish clients face the greatest disparity between their income levels and the size of their debt.

This, perhaps, begins to explain why their despair is more widely felt: more than a third of those surveyed across the UK had contemplated suicide as a way out of their debt problems and among those who responded from Northern Ireland, the figure rose to 49 per cent.

"There is a lot of stress and anxiety involved when you cannot provide for the family and home – especially when you think no one can help," said CAPNI's national development manager Chris Cupples.

"The reality is, the churches are working together and making a difference. During the last three years, we have helped more than a thousand clients and their families.

"Many of those people are alive today because that burden of worry has been lifted and they tell us they no longer dread the knock at the door; that they are happier and healthier and are looking to the future."

A big part of the in-depth care of the organisation involves teams of volunteer befrienders, often former clients, who work to tackle the issue of isolation, which is common among those with spiralling debt problems.

David Smyth, public policy officer for the Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, welcomed the figures on the numbers who had been saved from suicide.

He said: "This is truly a good news story and one to be shared as widely as possible. We have had the privilege of hearing some personal accounts of how CAP has made a practical difference to local lives.

"In 2011, 289 image-bearers of God took their own lives here. Our high suicide rate has been blamed on many things - from the troubles to high levels of alcohol abuse, mental illness, deprivation and debt. In reality it's probably a combination of these factors, all of which foster a sense of hopelessness.

"Like CAP we are seeking to bring social and spiritual transformation to those without hope in Northern Ireland. We are currently engaging in the issues of 'welfare and wellbeing' with church leaders and faith-based charities. We continue to encourage and commend CAP as co-labourers in this Kingdom work."

CAP launched its Northern Irish arm just three years ago with the Belfast East centre. Already there are 13 centres – each one at a local church – helping around 60 families or individuals every month.

Three more are expected to open in October and the charity aims to have 25 working centres in the next few years to make sure that everyone who calls for help via the freephone number can receive the help they need.

A variety of churches have partnered with CAP including Presbyterian, Baptist, Church of Ireland, Vineyard and independents who share the same desire to bring hope to the poorest.

NI clients have an average income of £11,639 and owe, on average, £15,825, a figure which includes both priority debt (housing, utilities) and secondary debt (credit cards, unsecured loans). At any one time CAP is carrying £4.8 million of their secondary debt in the region.