DON’T spend what you can’t afford – that was the message sent out by shoppers after we asked for their views on a report revealing the personal debt crisis hitting South Tyneside.
Statistics show that 607 clients visited the borough’s Citizens’ Advice bureau between July and September last year with debt-related concerns – the second highest figure in England.
That accounts for 42 per cent of the workload of the bureau, in King Street, South Shields.
Tellingly, priority debts, such as rent and council tax, have spiralled in recent years.
And advice workers are expecting a further surge in demand for the service this month as borough residents begin to count the cost of their Christmas spending.
Debt-related problems are so great that some bureau clients in the past have committed suicide to escape from them.
Taxi driver Mahendra Mahadeva, 63, often lends a listening ear to passengers worried about their personal finances. Mr Mahadeva, of Central Taxis in South Shields, said: “The figures don’t surprise me. There’s not a lot of money around here in South Shields, and there are high levels of deprivation.
“We are all in debt to some degree. It’s just a question of how well you manage it.
“A lot of people get in the cab and tell me about their debt problems and how they are struggling to cope.
“If I have any advice to pass onto those people, it is to keep their heads up and face their problems.”
Retired Tyne Tugs chief engineer John Burn, 81, of the Lawe Top, South Shields, points the finger of blame for increased personal debt at the foot of the government.
He said: “Everything is taxed these days. It’s ridiculous. I paid into a personal pension scheme, and I receive £94 a month on top of my state pension, but the Government takes £47 of that away in tax.
“I managed to stay clear of debt during my working life, but these days, it’s much easier to fall into trouble because credit cards are so easily accessible.”
Former Whitburn Colliery worker Raymond Wilford, 68, said: “You can’t afford to live beyond your means. You need to cut your cloth to suit your financial situation.
“You see people who are struggling buying huge flat-screen TVs. What’s wrong with smaller-screen TVs?
“I have never experienced debt, but people now want to live beyond their means.
“It’s all about materialistic things, and it’s unnecessary.”
Kenneth Dale, 69, a retired lorry driver of Marsden, South Shields, said: “You need to manage the way you spend your money.
“I have always believed that if there is something you want, you need to save up to buy it.
“People always seems to overspend at Christmas and have to face the consequences in January.”
Jobless Glyn Chilcott, 49, of Laygate, South Shields, said: “I have a credit card with about £1,200 on it and, because of my personal situation, I have needed to use it to buy essentials on occasions.
“I try to budget things and pay the debt down, but I’m usually left with about £12 a week to live on after I pay my bills.”
For an outsider’s view, we asked Constance Costello, 68, of Sunderland, for her thoughts on the matter.
She said: “At least South Shields has a Citizens’ Advice bureau. Sunderland hasn’t had one for 20 years.
“The problem is that people know that they can spend money they don’t have, and it will be written off.
“I used to work for a debt collection agency, and it cost more to recover the debt than the debt itself.”