The Children's Society logo

The Damage of Debt

There are around 2.4 million children living in families with problem debt in England and Wales. What impact is this having on their mental health?

The Damage of Debt

There are around 2.4 million children living in families with problem debt in England and Wales. What impact is this having on their mental health?

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.


Take action

Almost one in four young people

children in problem debt-ridden families, feel unhappy with their lives.

 That is more than half a million children.

When facing financial difficulties, children in poorer families are more vulnerable to mental health problems.

Juggling multiple debts

The more different types of debt families have, the more likely it is that the children will have poor mental health.

Having to juggle many different debts adds stress to already struggling households, and children are exposed to hassle and harassment from creditors. 

'You know with debt, constantly they are calling you, they are harassing, they are sending you letter. Some of them do turn up on your door.' Mum with three children

Debt is leaving children feeling anxious, stressed and ashamed

The impact of debt on children can be both direct and indirect.

Families trapped in problem debt are more than twice as likely to argue about money problems.

Relationships are put under strain as families are forced into a daily battle of juggling different debts with no room to breathe.

The distress and fear of  having bailiffs coming to the house or being evicted from your home can have a direct and lasting impact on a child. 

'They just came that morning. I could only take the things that I could carry. He was crying …his bed, his things, they were taking it out, they took us out, he just started crying and screaming and he didn’t want to go out of the house…Anything [her son] pointed at I carried it out…I had to carry things on my head, put things on the buggy.'

A mother, evicted from her accommodation with her infant son.

Adam’s story

Adam lived with his mum and two younger siblings. His mum had a low income and had been in debt for a number of years.

Adam noticed that his mum got stressed a lot and worried that he was taking too much money from his mum and using it for lunch knowing she was trying to save.

‘You can’t have everything you want, but like the little things we couldn’t get because of the money situation and my mum having to pay the bills and paying off her debt.’

His mum worked long hours to provide for the family and pay off the debt. This meant that he missed out on activities like football which he loved. 

Debt can have an impact on all children leaving them anxious, stressed and ashamed.

For some young people, such as those who have left care or who care for family members, they are more susceptible to feeling the impact of falling into debt because unlike many of their peers, they are responsible for managing household finances.

'From the state of leaving care to being into your own property, in the space of two months they’re already in £100 of debt and it’s a lot of debt for a young person to be in and so fast.' 19 year old care leaver

For young carers the additional responsibility is especially difficult.

'Having the pressure of people relying on you [is stressful] if you help out with paying half the rent or something then they’re dependent on you and if not it will affect everyone in the house and you’ll be in debt.' 18 year old young carer

Many young people can feel ashamed and embarrassed to be in debt and unsure where to turn.

When they do turn to The Children’s Society, our project workers provide them with support and guidance with their debt problems.

'I didn’t speak to anyone about it…. I hid it….And then eventually I came up to him [Children’s Society practitioner] and told him about it and we went straight to the council and I’m on a repayment plan, straight from benefits and I don’t see it anymore. And it’s not a problem.' 

                                                                                                                                                                                                     19 year old care leaver

Children shouldn’t have to pay the price of debt with their mental health

Girl looking out the window

A Breathing Space scheme is urgently needed to protect children and young people from the damage of debt

We are calling on the Government to create a breathing space for families, giving them time and space to repay their debts with no rising fees or visits from intimidating bailiffs.

Join our Debt Trap campaign and help us end the damage to children.

Take action

'If I could get like a break until I start working…I can balance both of them [repaying debts and taking care of needs]…the stress wouldn’t be much on my family'.


The government should make sure that:

  • Families have access to enough income to protect children’s welfare and stop families from falling into debt in the first place.

  • Families in receipt of council tax reduction should not be referred to bailiffs.

  • Families should be offered a breathing space period when they first fall into council tax debt.

  • Bailiffs are not used for collecting debt for families with children under 18, or young people who are living independently.

  • Debt advice providers should ask about the well-being needs of children in the household and refer to appropriate local services where they have concerns.

Download the full report 

This is the latest stage in our Debt Trap campaign – tackling the damage that debt causes to children. Previous stages have changed the practices of energy companies and local councils. Find out more about our Debt Trap campaign.