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Debt crisis in the region is revealed

PUBLISHED: 11:39 28 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:36 28 November 2013

Foodbank co-ordinator Grant Habershon and methodist minister Rev Sharon Willimott at Mile Cross Methodist church on Aylsham Road.

Foodbank co-ordinator Grant Habershon and methodist minister Rev Sharon Willimott at Mile Cross Methodist church on Aylsham Road.

EDP pics © 2010

Families struggling with serious debt are suffering extra stress about being able to afford Christmas followed by New Year fuel bills.

Call for youngsters to learn about money

A Norfolk MP is calling for schools to encourage pupils to talk and learn about money.

Chloe Smith, who represents Norwich North, is backing a campaign by the national charity Personal Finance Education Group.

Every primary and secondary school in the Norwich north area has been sent Get Money Smart posters and teaching materials.

The campaign is for children aged up to 16 and is designed to encourage classroom discussions about things youngsters can do to learn more about money and personal finance.

Ideas for different ages include checking your change, estimating the cost of a weekly shop, comparing mobile phone tariffs and planning and budgeting for a trip.

Miss Smith said: “I’ve been a long-standing campaigner for good information for young people in Norwich about money choices.

“This campaign could really help local families.”

The level of debt in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire has been revealed in an independent report, and the manager of Norwich Foodbank said: “We have seen people in tears and we have got people who are dreading Christmas because they can’t afford it.”

Out of 406 local authorities in Britain, Norwich ranked 25th highest with 32.8pc of the population having to live on a daily basis in serious debt.

Grant Habershon, from the foodbank, which has 11 distribution centres, described Norwich as a “tale of two cities” with areas of high deprivation and areas of wealth.

He said: “It really shows the effect of the recession. People are finding their wages are not going up, but inflation on the basics has gone up 8-9pc. More people are relying on credit to get through the month.”

The Money Advice Service (MAS) report also revealed Norwich was in the top five in Britain for the highest number of optimistic young workers - aged between 25 and 34 earning between £20,000-£40,000 - and stretched families - aged between 35-44 earning less than £30,000 - living in debt.

Great Yarmouth was 67th highest with 27.6pc of the population not making ends meet financially.

The MAS report found nationally around 8.8 million people are “over-indebted”, meaning they have fallen at least three months behind with their bills in the last six months or they feel their debts are a heavy burden.

Mr Habershon said: “We tend to see people on low incomes and families who are working but are on less than £30,000 who are struggling. “People have to get to places like the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and take control of their finances. Rather than taking out payday loans people have to start budgeting.”

It was announced this week the government is to introduce a new law to cap the cost of payday loans.

Norwich Foodbank was set up in October 2010 and in its first year it helped 2,500 people. It is predicted the charity will help 8,000 people this year.

Major causes for people going into debt were delays in benefit payments; the change in the welfare system; a lack of information on where to get financial advice; illness; job losses; or relationship breakdowns, according to Mr Habershon.

Linda Gill, head of advice and advocacy for Age UK Norfolk, said there had been an increase in older people asking for financial help over the past decade.

“Fuel poverty is rife in Norfolk, particularly in rural Norfolk,” she said.

Mel Jones, operations manager at Great Yarmouth CAB, who was surprised Yarmouth ranked lower than Norwich, said she saw debt every day.

Asked what causes the problems, she said: “It’s the seasonal work - it’s boom and bust.”

Unemployment in some parts of the borough could be up to twice the national average because of loan sharks and little access to credit unions.

She added cuts in legal aid had seen the number of debt case workers reduced from three to one, making it harder for the CAB to offer help.

And in her opinion, problems with debt in Yarmouth had got worse in recent years.

The MAS report identified Britain’s five most over-indebted areas as Hull, Nottingham, Manchester, Knowsley and Liverpool.

To contact the Norfolk CAB call 08444 111444 or to contact the Age UK Norfolk helpline ring 0300 5001217.

Are you struggling with debt? Or do you have tips for budgeting? Contact the newsdesk by emailing newsdesk@archant.co.uk, write to the Letters editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email edpletters@archant.co.uk.

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