Posted: 08 July 2014

Debt's far-reaching effects on children

Families with overwhelming debts often face a seemingly impossible dilemma situation: meeting repayments to creditors while still buying necessities for their family.

When creating The Debt Trap: Exposing the impact of problem debt on children, we and StepChange Debt Charity conducted interviews with families with problem debt (basically, any family that has fallen behind on the repayments of bills or credit commitments).

Families' stories illustrate the extraordinary lengths that parents in problem debt often go - and the sacrifices they make - in order to protect their children from missing out on essentials.

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Debt Trap

Debt's impact on children is often ignored or misunderstood. Change that - get involved in our Debt Trap campaign.

But in some cases this austerity simply becomes too difficult, and their children end up suffering the consequences. This can have major, long-lasting harm on both parents' and children's lives.

Meeting payments, cutting back on food

Parents in problem debt engage in a daily juggling act, making decisions on how to repay debts, buy essentials and cut back on expenses. The decisions are often harsh. A mother described a 'short week' each month when the cost of sanitary products for her daughter affects what she has available for food.

Another parent described the need to budget extremely tightly. 'This half term I made sure that I budgeted [...] and got enough food for [my son], so he wouldn't have to go out and buy anything, so I wouldn't have to give him any spends [...] And so I know he's got enough food.'

Another worrying theme in our interviews was parents' desire to keep up with their monthly credit payments, even if it meant increasing the amount that they borrowed. For some this was an automatic response - it had not occured to them that there was any other option but to keep paying - whereas for others, it was driven by a desire not to lose their credit rating.

Parents prioritise children's needs

three children looking alarmedWhere there was a shortfall, parents would often prioritise their children's needs over their own.

One parent said: 'I will try and get the money somehow in a way they don't go without, you know.'

Another parent said: 'A friend of [our daughter] lent her £10 and she [...] was going to use her pocket money to pay it off. I did not want her to be in debt to her friends. And you know we had less petrol [...] that week, you know. [...] I don't want her to struggle.'

...until forced to cut back on spending for children

For some families, this juggling act continues for months or years on end. However, eventually parents are frequently forced to cut back on spending on their children as well.

Nine in 10 parents in problem debt have cut back on necessities for their children within the last 12 months to make a debt repayment. Six in 10 have cut back on food, six in 10 have cut back on heating and eight in 10 have cut back on clothing.

One parent said: 'We've sold our bikes [...] We had to find some money and so we had to look at what was the most expensive thing. I know some poeple talk about, you know, people living in the designer houses where they have the designer jeans and they're not being able to pay the gas or something, but we literally sold everything of high value. I think the only thing left is [my husband's] computer that he uses for work.'

'I was crying myself to sleep sometimes'

Another parent said: 'It was really, really horrible [...] I was crying myself to sleep sometimes thinking I could be down to the last £1 in my purse so to speak and then the kids would be like 'Can we go here, can we do...'

Around a third of families in problem debt say they cut back on food within the last month, with a similar proportion saying they cut back on heating, and on clothing for themselves and their children, every month in order to keep up with repayments.

This piece mainly addresses the way in which problem debt affects the ability to meet children's basic needs - food, clothing, warmth and shelter. But as our report explains, problem debt affects other parts of life, such as a child's emotional well-being, relationships, school and social lives.

What you can do

Help us expose debt's devastating impact on children. Watch and share our video.

By Sam Royston - Policy team
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Debt Trap

Debt's impact on children is often ignored or misunderstood. Change that - get involved in our Debt Trap campaign.

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How does debt affect children?

Posted: 18 June 2014

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