Report identifies people with HIV face cycle of poverty

Besi Besemar February 23, 2014

HIV charity sees 15% rise in people seeking financial help for basic living costs.


More than 15 years after modern antiretroviral medication transformed HIV into a manageable condition, lack of government support is leaving too many people with HIV facing a cycle of poverty, according to a new report published today by HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT).

The charity has revealed that, in the last year alone, it has seen a 15% rise in the number of people applying to the charity for small grants to cover basic living expenses including food and clothing.

THT’s HIV & Poverty report is based on an analysis of nearly 2,000 applications made in 2012 to its Hardship Fund, which provides grants of up to £250 for people with HIV in financial crisis. The report, together with new figures for 2013, suggests that, rather than lifting people with HIV out of poverty, the fund is increasingly plugging the gap where statutory support in the form of benefits, Asylum Support, and local community services is failing to meet people’s needs.

According to the report, 46% of applicants living with HIV to the Hardship Fund in 2012 had a disposable income of less than £50 a week and 35% had no disposable income at all.

The majority of grants were used to cover basic costs, including food (47%) and clothing (10%).

The charity is also reporting that between 2012 and 2013 it has seen an increase in the number of applications from those whose benefits are under review (86% – 69 to 128 applications) or have stopped altogether (63% – 43 to 70 applications).

The number of people who received more than one grant per year rose by 42% (from 305 to 433).

THT is warning that, without adequate support from the welfare system, financial stress, poor diet, and other factors associated with poverty can lead to mental and physical ill health for people with HIV, in turn making it harder for them to re-enter employment or regain financial control.

Paul Ward
Paul Ward

Paul Ward, Acting Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “In an age when highly effective treatments mean people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, it is nothing short of a disgrace that HIV and poverty should still so often go hand in hand. Last year, one in every 40 people diagnosed with HIV applied to our Hardship Fund. We know that factors such as illness, discrimination, uncertain immigration status, mental health issues and family breakdown, can leave people with HIV needing extra support at certain points in their lives. But all too often our grants are only able to tide people over from day to day, rather than supporting them out of poverty.”

“The numbers in this report should act as a warning sign at all levels of government that people with HIV are not receiving the level of support needed to meet the most basic of costs. It is vital that people with HIV are fairly assessed and that financial support is sufficient to allow them to eat, clothe themselves and stay warm, and ultimately regain long-term financial security.”

THT has set out five key recommendations for local and national government:

• The Government must ensure those who need support are fairly assessed and that benefits are sufficient to cover basic costs

• The Work and Pensions Select Committee should hold an inquiry into the impact of welfare reforms

• The Department for Work and Pensions must ensure that people are supported to find sustainable employment suitable for their long-term health and wellbeing

• The Government should aim to complete the asylum process within six months and must allow people to work after 30 days

• Local Authorities must assess needs of people living with HIV in their areas and provide adequate services

The Poverty & HIV report is based on 1,918 applications to the Hardship Fund, as well as referrals to The Food Chain, a charity which provides nutritional support to people living with HIV. The Food Chain reports that 70% of people who use the service are living on less than £49 per week, with clients increasingly accessing the service as a result of poor diet associated with rising food prices.

Siobhán Lanigan
Siobhán Lanigan

Siobhán Lanigan, Chief Executive of The Food Chain, said: “The poverty statistics in this report are truly shocking and they tell just one part of the story. Every day The Food Chain hears from people living with HIV of their real experiences of having no money for food that week, of going hungry in order that their children may eat and of literally not knowing where their next meal will come from. Good nutrition makes a world of difference to how people get well and stay well and it is especially important for people with HIV in order to sustain as healthy an immune system as possible and support the efficacy of HIV medication. Access to food for all is surely a fundamental tenet of a humane society and we need to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community continue to have that access.”