12 Aug 2014

New research from The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity has revealed how many children are living in families trapped by debt in every part of England and Wales.

The study highlights how many families in each region are failing to keep up with household bills and loan repayments. It also estimates how many local children are living in families with problem debt.

It shows by how much struggling families are behind on payments, on average across each region, and the estimated total debt owed by all families in each region and parliamentary constituency.

Regional statistics

We compiled statistics on families in problem debt, the percentage of families in problem debt, children in families affected by problem debt, and total debt (in millions of pounds).

our regional statistics

Parliamentary constituency breakdown

A breakdown of the figures by Parliamentary constituency can be found on our interactive map. The statistics are also available from the media team on request (details below).

An investigation by The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity earlier this year found that debt puts stress on family relationships and traps families in a downward spiral of borrowing.

The charities' report, The Debt Trap: Exposing the impact of problem debt on children, showed how family debt causes children to suffer from worry and anxiety, experience bullying and miss out on essentials.

A national survey found almost two and a half million children across the country live in families owing a total of £4.8bn in bills and loans.

Further analysis of this research reveals for the first time the extent of the impact of debt on families in each area of the country. It follows the launch of The Debt Trap, a campaign by The Children’s Society to lift the lid on the massive impact of debt on children’s lives.

The Debt Trap

 While household budgets up and down the country are under strain, families with dependent children face extra pressures as they are more likely to face unexpected bills and are less able to cope with sudden financial shocks, for example redundancy, reduced hours or illness.

As families begin to struggle financially, many feel that taking on credit is the only way to make ends meet - a third of all families have had to borrow money to pay for essentials for their children in the last year. This often marks the beginning of the debt trap as credit repayments begin take up a larger proportion of income and families find themselves cutting back on essentials.

Ending the debt trap

 The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity are calling on the government to:

  • Consider developing a ‘breathing space’ scheme to give struggling families an extended period of protection from additional charges, further interest and enforcement action.
  • Review whether the protection for children against the harm caused by debt collection – including evictions, bailiffs and court action – is working.
  • Provide earlier and wider access to debt support and advice to help families put the brakes on a downward cycle of debt and reduce the impact on children.
  • Impose tighter restrictions on advertising loans to children.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

'Families in are increasingly relying on debt as a way to make ends meet – but we’re in danger of ignoring the impact this is having on children now and in the future. We cannot allow children to pay the price of debt.

'With little savings to fall back on, it can take just one unexpected setback - like illness or being made redundant – to tip a family over the edge and into a debt trap that can feel impossible to escape from.

'This research exposes the shocking reality of parents lying awake at night worrying and unhappy children going without. Many families are feeling the squeeze and parents struggling on low wages are battling just to pay the bills.'

Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said:

'This research is a stark warning to policymakers, creditors and the wider society of the devastating effects of debt on children. Families face a unique set of pressures, but the sad reality is that for many parents credit which is often unsustainable has become the only way to cover their essential household bills.

'As parents become trapped in a toxic cycle of debt, children can become the unwitting victims. This is not acceptable in a society that aspires to justice and fairness. We need concerted action to ensure financially vulnerable families are given ‘breathing space’ to help them get back on their feet and protect both children and families from the most harmful effects of debt.'

Ways that debt affects children’s lives

The report reveals the numerous ways that debt affects children's lives:

  • Bullying - Children in families with problem debt are more than twice as likely to be unhappy at school and be bullied because they don’t have the same things as their friends.
  • Worry - More than half of children (58%) in families with problem debt say they worry about their family’s financial situation
  • Family - Half of children in families with problem debt (47%) say it causes arguments in the family. 
  • Going without - Nine out of ten families in problem debt say they have had to cut back on essentials like food, clothing or heating for their children in order to keep up repayments. 
  • Early exposure to debt - More than half of children aged 10 to 17 said they saw advertising for loans ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’. But only one in five children said that their school had taught them about money management and debt.

Media enquiries

 For more information please contact The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 (office hours) or 07713 878298 (out-of-hours) or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. The StepChange Debt Charity media team can be contacted on 0207 391 4598 (office hours) or 07985 404 153 (out-of-hours) or email Edward.ware@stepchange.org.


  • A breakdown of the statistics by Parliamentary constituency is available on request.
  • For the purpose of this research, a family with ‘problem debt’ is one which has fallen behind on the repayments of bills or credit commitments. Families with debt, but where they are keeping up with payments, are not included.
  • Findings about numbers of children and families in problem debt are based on a survey of 2000 families with children across the UK.
  • These figures are broken down from regional to parliamentary constituency level on the basis of the most recently available individual insolvency statistics which can be found on the bis.gov.uk website.
  • Individual insolvency statistics were used as a proxy for the level of financial difficulty in a constituency within a region. The relative incidence of individual insolvency within a constituency in a region was used to estimate the number of families in problem debt in that constituency relative to other constituencies within the same region. We are aware other proxies for levels of financial distress in regions and constituencies can be used.
  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. 
  • StepChange Debt Charity’s ethos is to help the 'can't pays', not the 'won't pays', and does not condone debt avoidance. StepChange Debt Charity always aims to help its clients pay back what they owe, in a realistic timescale and manner that is suited to each individual’s situation.
  • The StepChange Debt Charity free phone helpline 0800 138 1111 is open 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday and 8am to 4pm Saturday. Online help is available any time from StepChange Debt Charity Debt Remedy at the StepChange website.
  • Join the conversation on Twitter - use the #DebtTrap hashtag.

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