More than 5,000 children in South Tyneside are living in families trapped in debt crisis, according to figures released today.
Charity The Children’s Society found that as many as one in 14 families in the borough has what is defined as ‘problem debt’, which means they have fallen behind on the repayments of bills or credit commitments.
There are 3,100 families living with problem debt in South Tyneside, say the statistics, which are based on a survey commissioned by the charity, with 5,300 children affected.
Coun Joan Atkinson, lead member for children, young people and families at South Tyneside Council, said: “We recognise that these difficult financial times are particularly challenging for families with children, and these statistics are a cause for concern. We believe every child has the right to the best start in life and we are making strenuous efforts to help families.
“To help people affected by the Government’s new welfare reforms, we created an enhanced welfare support team last year to enable us to offer early help and support to those likely to be affected. Staff are contacting these households to offer as much support as we can to reduce the impact of the new benefits cap.
“Our Children’s Services have also been re-designed to make it easier for families to access the right support when they need it.
“However, it is important to remember that the single best way to tackle poverty is through the creation of high-quality jobs.
“That is why, despite the challenging financial climate, we have chosen to press ahead with regeneration plans for the borough to provide valuable new opportunities for local people.”
The most common source of problem debt is arrears on energy bills, followed by loans from friends and family, bank loans, and council tax. In the North East as a whole, the figures show more than 90,000 children are living in 55,000 families trapped in problem debt.
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said: “Debt is very damaging to family life.
“It has an impact on the emotional well-being and mental health of the whole family and is one of the biggest factors of child poverty.
“Rising living costs, soaring energy costs and rising food prices, combined with public sector wage cuts and benefits freezes, have pushed more families into debt as they can no longer afford to make ends meet. Once a family gets into debt, it is very difficult to get out.
“Rather than stigmatising the families that have borne the brunt of the government cuts following the banking crisis and their punitive approach to welfare, the Government should be supporting them to get back on their feet.”