Three years ago, Dave Roberts was more than satisfied with his life and felt it would get even better. He had a garage business, a wife, three children and the pleasant trappings of a suburban lifestyle.

Then the recession bit. Profits fell, debts mounted. Within a year his wife walked out; at least partly, he feels, because of intolerable financial pressures. Six months later he went bankrupt and fell into deep depression.

In spite of all this he managed to carry on looking after his three asthmatic children. It was a relatively minor mishap, the vacuum cleaner breaking down, that eventually led this fiercely proud man to approach a charity - the Family Welfare Association (FWA), which provides small grants and advice for those suffering from poverty. They gave him pounds 180, for which he feels a mixture of gratitude and shame.

People such as Dave are the 'unexpected' poor: small business people, nurses, teachers, local authority workers and estate agents, who are applying in increasing numbers to the FWA, 125 years old next year. Another charity, the Professional Classes Aid Council, claims a 60 per cent increase in applications last year, from people of all ages, and the Family Services Unit reports a dramatic increase in demand, particularly from white-collar groups. Like the two men who tell their stories below, most are just a couple of years down the line from a life that seemed a safe distance from those subterranean people we call the poor.

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