Increasing numbers of HIV patients are struggling to afford basic costs of living due to a lack of government support, says UK sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust.
According to a new report released today (23 February), there has been a 15% increase in the number of people with HIV seeking financial help from the charity over the past year.
The charity says the findings ‘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’.
The statistics are based on an analysis of almost 2,000 applications made in 2012 to its Hardship Fund, which provides small grants (up to £250) to HIV patients who are unable to afford basic expenses such as food and clothing. Almost half (47%) of the recipients used the money to pay for food, while 10% bought essential clothing.
While these grants are intended to lift people with HIV out of poverty, the HIV and Poverty Report suggests they are increasingly ‘plugging the gap where statutory support … is failing to meet people’s needs’. There was a 42% rise in the number of people who received multiple grants over a 12 month period.
The report found 46% of applicants to the Hardship Fund in 2012 had a disposable income of less than £50 a week, while over a third (35%) had no disposable income at all.
Terrence Higgins Trust said it has seen an 86% increase in the number of applications from people whose benefits are under review and a 63% increase in applicants whose benefits have been stopped completely.
Paul Ward, acting chief executive of the charity, 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.’
Terrence Higgins Trust says adequate support from the welfare system is vital to ensure HIV patients are able to re-enter employment and stabilize their finances, and has proposed a set of key recommendations for local and national government in an effort to address the situation.
Labour MP Pamela Nash, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV & AIDS, spoke to GSN about the report: ‘THT’s report highlights the national disgrace of people living in poverty, often depending on foodbanks, due to the Government’s austerity measures, including welfare reform.
‘I have seen in my own constituency the affect that this is having on the mental and physical health of individuals and it is not acceptable. This is why I have called for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up by the Government to fully investigate the impact that these austerity measures are having.
‘For those living with HIV, the effect is compounded as they absolutely require a healthy balanced diet in order for medication to be effective.
‘This is a problem that I have found in developing countries, where even when HIV treatment is available and prescribed, the lack of nutritious food prevents people living with HIV from getting the benefit of the medication. And now this problem has surfaced here in the UK, in 2014.
‘I will be writing to the Prime Minister to highlight the findings of this report and ask what he plans to do to rectify this appalling situation.’
The Food Chain, a charity that provides nutritional support to HIV patients, said people are suffering due to poor diet associated with rising food prices.
Chief executive Siobhán Langan said: ‘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.’