6 Mar 2017

Over 620,000 families in England and Wales are spending more on overdue bills than on food, new research published today by The Children’s Society has found.

Families behind on bills are spending 18% of their income on paying back arrears. The Children’s Society is warning that huge bills can force families to cut back on food and other essentials.

Just one unexpected cost can push families into problem debt, and today’s research reveals that 46% of families who had their car, central heating or appliances break down in the last 12 months had to borrow money to pay for a repair or replacement. Two out of five (38%) of UK families say they will have to borrow money to pay for family essentials simply if the costs of living increase. Some families, the charity found, are spending more than £1000 a month on arrears.

The figures come from polls of 2,004 UK adults commissioned by The Children’s Society from Opinium.

Many families trapped in debt find themselves in a desperate struggle to keep up with repayments, facing spiralling costs and pursued by creditors. The Children’s Society is calling for the government to give legal protection to families who fall into problem debt, with a 12 month ‘Breathing Space’ from mounting interest, charges and creditors chasing them for payment, so they can get their finances in order and set up a plan to affordably repay what they owe.

Sarah and her young son were made homeless after she fell into debt: “At the start of my twenties, I had a good life.  I had a decent job, a lovely flat, a partner and a small child. This all changed when the relationship with my child's father broke down suddenly. He moved out, and with just one salary coming in, I was unable to afford to cover the rent and bills. Everything seemed to crash down at once and became untenable. “A breathing space from my outstanding bills and the constant letters and calls would have, at least, given me an emotional break from the worrying and struggling. It would have helped me to think calmly about my circumstances and plan a solution.” Research published by The Children’s Society last year found that children living in families struggling with debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children in families who don’t have difficulty with debt, putting them at risk of developing mental health problems.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The stress and worry of falling into problem debt takes a heavy toll on both parents and children alike. We know that in some cases children are going without basics such as food, clothing or heating, as well as suffering from worry, anxiety and bullying as parents struggle to keep up with repayments.

“No family should have to struggle to afford food because of the cost of problem debt; but this is a day-to-day reality for far too many across the country, as they find themselves facing spiralling charges and under intense pressure from lenders. These families need better protection from government to help them back on their feet and in charge of their finances.”

ENDS

Media contact: The Children’s Society media team on media@childrenssociety.org.uk or 0207 841 4422 (office hours) mobile: 078107 96508 (24 hours).

Notes to editors