One in six HIV-positive people ‘suffer poverty’

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One in six people with HIV have lived in poverty at some point in the last four years, a report from the National AIDS Trust and Terrence Higgins Trust says.

According to the research, there is a “cyclical” relationship between HIV and poverty, as poor health caused by the disease leads to poverty, while poverty is also a factor in worsening health among HIV-positive people.

Poverty is defined in the report as 60 per cent of the median weekly income of the general population.

One in six people diagnosed with HIV receive support from the Crusaid Hardship fund, now run by THT. For these people, the average weekly income is £42 per week. Ten years ago, this figure was £93.

The report says that the majority of those receiving help from the hardship fund are now living in “extreme” poverty, on just 20 per cent of the average weekly income.

Nick Partridge, chief executive of THT, said: “The level of poverty people with HIV are experiencing across the UK has dramatically increased over recent years.

“Where the Hardship Fund used to buy people a fridge or pay for respite care, now it mainly goes on basic survival – food, clothes, a bed.”

More than a quarter of those receiving hardship funds are asylum seekers, who receive £35 a week in support from the government. The report recommends that restrictions on employment for asylum seekers should be lifted to allow them to work.

Other issues were delays in receiving benefits or not being eligible for them, being in poor health or looking after children.

Most applicants were not in full-time employment, while some reported losing their jobs after being diagnosed with HIV.

The most common profile of a person receiving help from the hardship fund was a black African woman in her thirties. Sixty per cent of applications came from black African people, who are a group particularly affected by HIV.

The report said it was not possible to work out exactly how many gay and bisexual men receive support from the fund but estimated that a “large” proportion of applications came from these individuals.

Recommendations include allowing asylum seekers to work after six months in the UK, ensuring people receive benefits they are eligible for and better training about HIV for those who make decisions on benefits and housing.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of NAT, said: “Charities are picking up the pieces of a poverty crisis in the UK, but there is only so much the sector’s limited funds can do. The government needs to address the underlying causes of this hardship, some of which it has been responsible for creating.

“Granting asylum seekers the right to work after six months and ensuring people are not left in poverty while waiting for their benefits to be processed are two crucial steps that would release many people with HIV out of the poverty trap.”