By Claire Savage
As a former Department of Work and Pensions employee who previously toured Iraq, Colette Ansell has experienced both sides of the poverty divide.
The young single mother, who lives in Portstewart with her four-year-old son Kurtis, is now firmly on the road to financial recovery however, thanks to some timely community support.
A report from Save the Children in 2014 claimed that by 2020, almost one-in-four children will be living in poverty in Northern Ireland. Colette’s story shows how easily this can happen. She is upfront about her financial situation, which rapidly worsened after she left the Territorial Army (TA) in 2009. She subsequently hopes her story will encourage others, and show that help is at hand during hardship.
Having left school at 16, Colette joined the TA aged 18, completing nine years’ service and touring Iraq in 2008, where she escorted convoys between Iraq and Kuwait. When she left the security of the army in 2009, however, her finances suffered and after Kurtis was born in 2010, she found herself living in a hostel in Northampton. “That was a real challenge in my life,” she says. “I was also diagnosed with depression, so I was having to deal with that on top of everything else.”
Colette was later awarded a social housing place but gave this up to move in with her partner. After this relationship broke down, she then moved to Northern Ireland last May.
“All I could afford in Northampton was a bedsit and I couldn’t do that with a child,” she says.
“A friend suggested Northern Ireland and I fell in love with it. “It’s more affordable and there’s a better quality of life here.”
Joining Causeway Coast Vineyard Church in Coleraine, Colette learned of CAP – Christians Against Poverty – a national debt counselling charity which has helped turn her life around. Having accumulated a series of moderate debts, including rent, council rates, electricity arrears, credit card and tax credits overpayment, which collectively totalled around £10,000, she felt stuck.
“CAP took all my financial information and copies of my records of debts in December,” she says. “They put me forward for a Debt Relief Order (DRO) and have negotiated with the companies I owe money to.”
With a monthly budget to stick to, Colette, who relied on food banks over the winter, is now also completing the CAP money management course. “It’s made a huge difference in my life,” she says.
“I’m now on a part-time health and social care course at the NRC in Coleraine, and I’m about to start a full-time job in a care home.”With plans to study nursing or social work at university, Colette has a new positive outlook on life. Although still reliant on welfare support, along with childcare costs from the NRC hardship fund (previously subsidised by Gingerbread NI before government cuts), Colette and Kurtis are anticipating a much brighter future. • For more information on CAP visit: www.capuk.org or Freephone: 01274 760 720.