WHEN PETER, a 37-year-old advertising executive, lost his job two years ago, he never thought of asking the National Advertising Benevolent Society for financial help. 'I had only read about the society and its fund-raising parties. I was one of those Thatcherite yuppies who thought it would never happen to me,' he says.

There are many benevolent funds, such as Nabs, allied to a profession or industry in Britain, and, with few exceptions, the demand for financial help is increasing at a rate unknown five years ago. Nabs specifically helps those in advertising, including those who have not contributed in the past. Founded in 1913, it is one of the wealthier societies with more than pounds 3m in assets and an income of more than pounds 1m.

As the recession bites into advertising, Peter's plight is not unusual. Seventy per cent of the 2,500 people contacting Nabs every year are under 30, and more than half have been made redundant. In 1987 it received 400 inquiries, all from people over 50.

Denise Larkin, director of Nabs, says: 'Then, we were mainly dealing with the elderly, retired, the chronically sick as well as our two retirement homes, but now the greater percentage of our income helps people who would normally be working.'

For Peter, losing his pounds 25,000 salary was a great shock but being unemployed for a prolonged stretch has been harrowing. With a mortgage of pounds 100,000, no savings and some redundancy money which he spent on a holiday with his wife, who had just lost her job too, Peter thought he would soon be employed again.

Nabs guided Peter through DSS regulations and helped him to get the mortgage interest paid through income support. He and his wife struggled on their reduced income and coped with the arrival of their first child. 'At first it didn't cross my mind that Nabs could help financially. Also, I was very reluctant to ask,' he says.

After a while they started using income support money earmarked for the mortgage to pay the bills. Eventually Peter wrote Nabs a desperate letter asking for help with the telephone bill. 'I felt bloody awful but very relieved at the same time,' he says. The society offered him a grant. Now, Nabs gives them pounds 10 a week - which does not affect their income support - and also helps with big household expenses.

'I have lost any sort of self- pride about asking for money: what is crucial to me now is that I don't lose my home or my family,' says Peter. Nevertheless, he perceives it as receiving charity - another stigma added to being unemployed and a barrier preventing him from telling his mother or close friends.

In addition, Nabs has given Peter advice about his CV and keeps in regular contact by telephone. The society even sent his wife a birthday card. 'I am lucky because I have a charity helping me - next door there is an unemployed bloke who hasn't,' he adds.

In response to the increased demand, Nabs created a Job Club earlier this year. Here, unemployed people have access to a computer, trade magazines and information about vacancies. As Nabs has a pounds 200,000 deficit this year, it is likely to offer only counselling to young, single people; those with children and the elderly are helped more extensively.

Nabs receives most of its income from advertising firms, but not all the top agencies contribute, nor do many individuals. Next January, Nabs is launching a drive to encourage payroll giving. 'It would make a considerable difference,' says Mrs Larkin. 'It is an insurance policy - you pay while you are in work just in case you are not.'

Another society to receive little sympathy from outsiders is the Solicitors' Benevolent Association, which helps those or dependants of those on the Roll for England and Wales. 'Most people collapse laughing and say, 'No solicitors need help',' says Susie Marshall, one of the SBA's welfare officers.

She feels it is partly because everyone assumes that all solicitors in London work for a big City practice and earn large salaries. 'There is a great disparity between those and the salaries of a country practice. And like all businesses, some are more successful than others,' says Mrs Marshall.

The attitude is reinforced, she says, when people receive a hefty solicitor's bill: 'People feel resentful because they actually need a solicitor. It is like estate agents.'

Solicitors are also facing redundancy and in the last two years the SBA has been receiving more applications from younger members in the profession. Two-thirds come from the south of England. 'I think people are less proud nowadays: if they have overcome the hurdle of the social services first, then coming to us is less daunting,' says Mrs Marshall.

The main problem, again, is large mortgages. Solicitors have not been immune from finding their property worth less than their mortgage. The SBA, too, must tread carefully around the income support law - helping with big expenses, such as a damaged roof, and little extras to help people lead a slightly more comfortable life.

An SBA welfare officer visits each person to assess the need. 'Some people find it very difficult to adjust to changed circumstances, wanting to hang on to their Bupa, for example,' says Mrs Marshall, adding that the SBA will not support private education or medical insurance.

Often married couples who depend on the husband's income are terribly ashamed: 'I know it sounds old-fashioned and sexist but some men feel very embarrassed about telling me, a woman, that they have let their families down,' says Mrs Marshall.

Although the trend is worrying, the SBA assists all its correspondents until they no longer need help. Last year, it gave pounds 576,853 in grants, and pounds 139,063 in interestfree loans, which resulted in a small overall deficit. Its income is derived mainly through membership: at pounds 10 a year it is surprising that only 16,000 of the 55,000 practising solictors in England and Wales subscribe.

The SBA, like many benevolent societies, finds the most motivated to donate are those who have been helped in the past. When asked if he would give to Nabs, Peter replies: 'By God, I will if I ever get a job and I will make sure the company does too.'

(Photograph omitted)