Getting out of debt; the road to self-reliance

Poverty and debt are major problems both for people with debt and society as a whole. Some people accumulate debt because they borrow more than they are able to repay, but more often than not, financial problems pile up because people have trouble paying their fixed costs such as healthcare insurance, rent and utilities. It’s not only people with low incomes who seem to be getting into trouble, but more and more people with jobs, particularly the self-employed, are also having problems. For a large group of people with debt, society’s inherent complexity is too great for them to solve their problems alone. They are up against an incomprehensible web of regulations, allowances, taxes and so on, and many even stop opening their mail, ultimately just giving up. It can be difficult to turn the tide once debts start piling up.

An estimated one and a half million people have problematic debt or run the risk of this. Most households with debt do not get formal debt assistance. The approval criteria are strict, the procedures complicated, and there are long waiting periods. People applying for debt assistance have average debts totaling around 40,000 Euros.

And lurking behind all of these figures is a tremendous amount of personal suffering. Anyone with debt also often suffers from an accumulation of psychological and social problems. If a gift is too expensive, you have to forgo birthday parties. Going for a drink or night out on the town with friends is out of the question. These situations are usually a huge source of shame and puts those in debt at a high risk of stigmatization and isolation.

Adessium places a high value on a society in which everyone can participate on equal footing which is why we support social organizations that help people with problems arising from debt. The early detection of problems related to debt can help prevent these situations from worsening. In addition to personal assistance, such as with finances, or finding work or a training program, immediate help in acute emergency situations and support in plotting out the path to formal help are needed. We are active in all of these areas.

Buddies: early detection and prevention of social isolation

The “maatjes (buddies)” projects are just such a personal form of assistance. The buddies working for our partner Schuldhulpmaatje are trained volunteers who reach out to people with debt (or imminent debt) on time and help them become more financially self-sufficient. This might involve helping them get their finances in order or planning and managing their expenses. This personal attention can often be motivating, and helps people avoid ending up in social isolation. Some of these “buddies” have been through a debt process of their own and are able to provide help based on their own experiences.

Employers often also play a role in alerting others to problems when they see their employees asking for advances on their salaries, or when creditors garnishee their wages. Our partner fiKks, part of the Helden van de Wil Foundation, has developed an app that enables people to seek personal help with their financial problems, anonymously, from a buddy. This buddy is a volunteer trained by fiKks. The app makes it easy for employers to implement this help within their company, enabling colleagues to help one another if desired.

Help with imminent debt

Even though some people don’t have debt that is problematic, they can still find themselves in a vulnerable situation. A broken washing machine or bicycle a child needs to get to school becomes an insurmountable expense. In order to prevent such expenses from leading to debt problems, Adessium works with organizations such as the FBNR, Fonds Bijzondere Noden Rotterdam. They can provide support when acute and urgent expenses must be incurred that people are not in a position to bear themselves. FBNR also assists when debt repayment plans hinder the availability of the resources necessary to meet the basic needs for survival.

One out of every 12 children in the Netherlands lives in poverty. These children often can’t go on school trips, do not have a bicycle or a computer, or are unable to participate in activities that are very normal for their peers, due to financial reasons. This limits their social development. By providing rapid responses to signs from volunteer intermediaries, Leergeld Nederland makes it financially possible for children to participate in activities both at and outside of their schools.

The road to help

A number of companies, including banks, and municipalities have assumed their responsibility and are working with social organizations, such as our partners Schuldhulpmaatje and Humanitas, to help prevent problematic debts. They have united their efforts in the organization Nederlandse Schuldhulproute. They are aware that the right path to help for people with debt is often hard to find, and that it can take an average of 4.8 years before they get the assistance they need. The “map” shows people with current or imminent debt problems the kind of help that is available for them and points the way to the people or organizations that can help. This may range from online self-help or a buddy (digital or “real”) to professional assistance and formal debt relief through their own municipality.

Broad cooperation between organizations

Cooperation between the organizations involved is key to tackling debt problems in the Netherlands. Stichting Van Schulden naar Kansen (VSNK) is an initiative of Nationale-Nederlanden. They have been dedicated to promoting financial self-reliance in the Netherlands since 2015. VSNK connects municipalities, research institutes and social organizations to one another and offers financial support to local aid initiatives. In order to gain information on effective approaches to poverty and debt in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) conducts long-term research on the effects of the initiatives VSNK supports. These studies have shown that 10% of the respondents who had debt at the start of the intervention were debt-free six months after the end of the project, are more often able to handle their finances and mail on their own, and have the funds they need more often to replace a broken washing machine.


One of Adessium’s core values is that everyone is be able to fully participate in society. We want to remove as many obstacles to participation as we can so that no one has to be alone in these efforts. Support for social initiatives designed to help people avoid debt contributes to the achievement of this objective.

About this program

The Social Initiatives program strives to create a society in which people live together with respect and compassion for one another. We help people escape poverty and social isolation while becoming more self-sufficient. Helping people avoid running up debt is an important part of this.





In its efforts to help prevent debt and social isolation, Adessium works with Van Schulden naar Kansen, Fonds Bijzondere Noden Rotterdam, Schuldhulpmaatje, Helden van de Wil and Leergeld Nederland.