More than 18,000 children in Wigan are living with families trapped in personal debt, new figures have revealed.
Research by the Children’s Society showed 10,600 families in the borough were struggling to keep up with household bills and loan repayments in the past year.
Those families included 18,400 youngsters, who could be feeling the impact of the debt, according to the charity.
They were among 387,700 children in the North West living in 224,000 families with problem debt.
The research, based on a survey commissioned by the Children’s Society, showed families with children were more than twice as likely to be trapped in problem debt as childless households.
The Children’s Society, as part of its Debt Trap campaign, is calling for changes to how creditors treat families with children who fall behind on bills and repayments.
The odds are stacked against parents who are desperate to find a way out of their debtRob Jackson from the Children’s Society
It is urging the Government to introduce a 12-month “breathing space” scheme to give struggling families protection from additional charges, mounting interest and enforcement action while they seek advice and put their finances in order.
The charity has published a draft of a parliamentary bill and it will be debated by MPs in the New Year.
Rob Jackson, North West area director at the Children’s Society, said: “With unfair and unsustainable repayment plans, hidden charges, soaring interest, visits from intimidating bailiffs and the fear of eviction, the odds are stacked against parents who are desperate to find a way out of their debt.
“Meanwhile, mums and dads are being forced to make impossible decisions between feeding and clothing their children, and paying the bills.
“It is now absolutely clear that this problem is not going away unless the Government takes action to give families the breathing space they need to get their finances back on track. Acting now could have a hugely beneficial impact, not just on family finances in the short term but on the futures of some of the country’s most vulnerable children.”
The Children’s Society survey of 2,000 adults across the UK, carried out by Opinium, found the most common type of debt was arrears on energy bills, followed by loans from friends and family, bank loans and council tax.
Almost one-third of parents who have been in problem debt in the last year (29 per cent) had arrears of more than £5,000.
Coun Terry Halliwell, Wigan Council’s cabinet member for customer transformation, said: “We would encourage residents to get support if they are worried about falling into debt or are already struggling. There is lots of local help and advice out there to help people but sometimes it can be difficult getting help before it’s too late.
“If you find that you are struggling with debt and are unable to manage repayments, it is important to think about which debts you need to deal with first. There can be serious consequences to not paying your bills and we don’t want people falling into debt.”
The research by the Children’s Society comes just days after figures were released by the End Child Poverty coalition claiming more than a quarter of children in Wigan are living in poverty.
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy urged the Government to use the autumn statement “to reverse the sharp cuts being introduced to in-work benefits under universal credit”.