A leading debt charity has warned a hidden poverty crisis across Tayside is putting lives at risk.
The Highland Perthshire Christians Against Poverty (CAP) centre said isolation and loneliness as a result of living with a “poverty secret” can be a killer.
The warning comes after new research into the effects of debt in the UK revealed almost a third of CAP clients had considered suicide.
The charity says the impact on health of living with debt can be as hazardous as a 15-a-day cigarette habit.
Angela Hanvey, who manages the Aberfeldy-based group, said: “It’s a 21st century parable really.
“There are many people in this area, living in isolation with a poverty secret. The sad truth is they may live in the same street or town as us, but they’re suffering from extreme loneliness because of their debts.”
She said: “It means that they can’t provide for their children, don’t have enough food to eat or can’t heat their home. Tragically, it even means some of them consider taking their own lives.”
The CAP client report showed that almost four out of 10 were afraid to leave their homes, three-quarters were frightened to answer the phone and 80% were scared to open their post.
Ms Hanvey said: “People are created for community, they’re social beings, and the long-term damage of living with loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
She said the common reasons for debt included low income, relationship breakdowns, problems with benefits, illness and bereavement.
The charity visits clients in their own homes and helps them to become debt-free.
Specialists at CAP’s head office negotiate with creditors, help create a budget and provide ongoing support.
The charity’s patron, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said: “The scale of problem debt in our country is at epidemic levels.
“Where there are still lives filled with an oppressive hopelessness, were darkness has a grip, our mission is not done.”
The charity found that 40% of Scots were in debt to priority creditors – such as rent, council tax and energy arrears – with the average amount owed at around £14,520.
While 35% of clients had considered suicide, eight per cent had tried taking their own lives, with half of them making more than one attempt.