MORE than 4,000 South Tyneside children are living in families trapped by debt, according to new figures released today.
The shock statistics, issued by The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity, reveal many borough families are struggling to keep up with household bills and loan repayments.
The charities’ report – entitled ‘The Debt Trap: Exposing the impact of problem debt on children’ – claims families in South Tyneside have debts totalling more than £4m.
In the South Shields constituency, the charities say there are 1,322 families in problem debt – 15 per cent of the population – and 2,222 children affected. Total debts owed are £2,206,408.
The picture is a little healthier in Jarrow, where 1,290 families are said to be in problem debt – 12 per cent of the constituency – and 2,168 youngsters are affected. Total debts owed are £2,152,063.
The charities say that debt puts stress on relationships and traps families in a downward spiral of borrowing.
As families begin to struggle financially, many feel that taking on credit is the only way to make ends meet.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Families in the North East 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 it can feel impossible to escape.
“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.”
The charities are now calling on the Government to introduce a range of measures, including providing earlier and wider access to debt support and advice to help families put the brakes on a downward cycle of debt and to impose tighter restrictions on advertising loans to children.
Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “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.”