The region’s debt mountain: Report reveals thousands of families struggling with debt
- Credit: PA
Almost 100,000 children in the region are living in families battling to cope with problem debt, new research has revealed.
The Children's Society has found that more than 236,000 children in the East of England, covering 11 local authority areas, are living in 135,000 families trapped in problem debt, which is defined as falling behind in repayments of bills or credit commitments.
Norfolk ranks as the second worst, beaten by Essex, with 22,200 families around the county failing to make ends meet and 38,600 children in those families.
In Suffolk, there are 37,400 children and in Cambridgeshire there are 24,500.
The figures, which are based on a survey by the charity, show that more than one in six families with children - 18pc - struggled to keep up with household bills and loan repayments in the last year.
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And the charity is today publishing a draft of a parliamentary bill which would see the government introduce a 12-month breathing space scheme to give struggling families a period of protection from creditors and the additional charges and mounting interest they bring.
The bill is being sponsored by MP Kelly Tolhurst and will be debated by MPs in the New Year.
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Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP) which works in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, said it was difficult to measure debt because of how many different kinds there were.
He said for young people particularly the issue can be store card debt, or mobile phone contracts.
'It's very easy to get in debt,' he added.
The Children's Society has released the survey results to highlight the damaging effect debt can have on young people's lives, with mental health worries and a lack of basics including food, clothing and heating among the concerns.
The figures, taken from 2,000 adults, show that families with children are more than twice as likely to end up in problem debt compared to households without children.
It found that families in problem debt are juggling an average of four different types, with the most common source being arrears on energy bills, followed by loans from friends and family, bank loans and council tax.
While the size of debt varies, almost one third of parents who have been in problem debt in the last year currently owe more than £5,000.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children's Society, said: 'Again and again we have raised the urgent problem of families who are trapped by debt, and whose children often pay the price with their mental and physical health.
'With unfair and unsustainable repayment plans, hidden charges, soaring interest, visits from intimidating bailiffs and the fear of eviction, the odds are stacked against parents who are desperate to find a way out of their debt. Meanwhile mums and dads are being forced to make impossible decisions between feeding and clothing their children, and paying the bills.
'It is now absolutely clear that this problem is not going away unless the Government takes action to give families the breathing space they need to get their finances back on track. Acting now could have a hugely beneficial impact, not just on family finances in the short term but on the futures of some of the country's most vulnerable children.'
Proposals have been welcomed by charity
A package of bold proposals to tackle the region's worsening social mobility problems has been welcomed by a charity supporting hundreds of local young people.
The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) yesterday laid out its State of the Nation report, which warned of a growing divide between cities and rural areas and an 'us and them' society which is leaving thousands of people behind.
In January, the SMC published a league table of social mobility – the measure of how a person improves their life chances – and Norwich was ranked second worst, with Fenland, Waveney, Breckland and Great Yarmouth also identified as coldspots.
It means that in those areas, prospects for young people are some of the lowest in the country. In yesterday's report, the watchdog calls on the government to create a 10-year plan covering 'fundamental barriers' to progress – education, economy, housing and employment.
Its ambitious suggestions include a three million house-building target, making unpaid internships illegal, reconsidering grammar school plans and creating a university social mobility league table. It was welcomed by Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), who said: 'The report is very positive – and it is impressive that it's been done by a cross-party group. 'This isn't about asking for more money, it's about focusing our resources in the right place. There are people who are stuck, unable to improve their lives, and giving them support which enables them to make changes where our money needs to go.'
He said he had been particularly pleased by a suggestion to repurpose the National Citizen Service so that children between 14 and 18 can access work experience and extra-curricular activities. Unveiling the report, Alan Milburn, SMC chairman, said: 'The impact is not just felt by the poorest in society but is also holding back whole tranches of middle, as well as low income, families – these treadmill families are running harder and harder, but are standing still.'
Mr Milburn warned that 'whole sections of society and whole tracts of Britain felt left behind' and said EU referendum result showed that the 'public mood is sour'.
To read the report, visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/state-of-the-nation-2016