HIV increases poverty, not just ill health, report finds

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People living with HIV are experiencing greater levels of poverty as a result of their diagnosis, finds a major report launched today by two of the UK’s leading organisations working for people with the virus. The report – entitled ‘Poverty and HIV – Lessons from the Hardship Fund’ and authored jointly by Crusaid and the Terrence Higgins Trust – finds that there have been significant decreases in average weekly income among people with HIV. This in turn has resulted in a large expansion in the numbers of applicants for assistance from the Fund.

Problems people experience range from the sudden impact of an unexpected HIV diagnosis causing homelessness, loss of job or even domestic violence, to the long term impacts of ill-health – debt, depression and difficulty in coping.

Data and case studies from the national Hardship Fund – which has assisted almost one quarter of the HIV positive people in the UK and forms the foundation of the report – show that the average weekly income of people applying for grants or assistance has decreased dramatically over the past three years. In 1999, average income among applicants was £93.79p per week. However, by 2002 that figure had plunged to just £65.08p per week. Available figures for 2003 appear to show that the downward trend is continuing, with average income among people living with HIV and applying to the Hardship Fund for help, falling to a mere £57.21p per week.

Steven Inman, Head of Grants and Projects at Crusaid and manager of the Hardship Fund said: “The data shows conclusively that people living with a positive diagnosis are experiencing worsening levels of poverty and, as a result, are turning to the Fund in ever greater numbers.

“The pattern of HIV in this country is changing. We are seeing ever increasing numbers of people contracting HIV alongside high levels of complacency and ignorance about the need for safer sex. New applicants for help often lack any substantive income or savings and are having to turn to the Fund to help pay for the most basic of necessities.”

Lisa Power, Head of Policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, adds “Much of the poverty trap that people with HIV fall into could be stopped by small but significant changes to the law and government regulations. We call upon the Government to make these changes, outlined in the report, to help people with HIV to help themselves.”

Other key findings of the report include:

Unprecedented demand for assistance – in 2002 the Hardship Fund disbursed almost three quarters of a million pounds to people living in poverty as a result of a positive HIV diagnosis. A total of £723, 714 – an increase of 47% since the year 2000 – was distributed. This equates to 4,195 awards to 3,183 people in the last year, compared to 2,691 awards to 1,960 people just two years previously.

Repeat applications to the Hardship Fund are increasing – the number of people needing to apply more than once within a single year has almost doubled. In 2000, 408 people submitted a repeat application, whereas in 2002, the number increased to 808.

Applications equalising between women and men – there has been a marked increase in the number of women applying to the Hardship Fund for help following a positive diagnosis. 1,176 women applied in 2000 – two years later that figure had swelled to 2,064.

Debt relief becoming more acute – in percentage terms, there has been a near 700% increase in the number of people applying to the Fund to ease the burden of personal debt incurred through loss of work and/or income as a result of living with HIV/AIDS.

Steven Inman said: “The Hardship Fund is coming under increasing strain as more and more people face a life in poverty as a result of being HIV positive. The most productive people in our economy – those who we would normally expect to earn money for themselves through work – are now in a poverty trap as a result of repeat bouts of ill-health and the inability to find work because of stigma and discrimination.”

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