Debt blighting lives of thousands

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THOUSANDS of Wigan children’s lives are being blighted by family debt.

Nearly 10,000 households in the borough are failing to keep up with bills and repayments, according to a new report by The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity. Latest figures show the number of Under-16s in a household where parents received benefits or tax credits and where income was 60 per cent less than the average wage was 11,995.

That means that just over 20 per cent of children in the Wigan borough are living in poverty.

But council chiefs say they are doing all they can to tackle the problem.

Alison McKenzie-Folan, director of customer transformation at Wigan Council, said: “We’ve developed a programme of support for people struggling with their finances.

“For example we have offered personal budgeting workshops and courses, are working with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to give advice and support to families, and working with the Unify Credit Union who are offering low cost loans as alternative to door stop lenders.

“We’ve introduced a new counselling service for those with gambling problems and are tackling illegal money lending through enforcement.

“We support families with children aged under five through the local council tax reduction scheme and encourage all parents to take up services and support available to them such as free school meals.”

A national survey found almost two and a half million children across the country live in families owing a total of £4.8bn in bills and loans.

The percentage of households that fall below society’s minimum standard of living has increased sharply from 14 per cent to 33 per cent over the last 30 years, despite the size of the economy doubling.

Chief Executive of The Children’s Society Matthew Reed said: “Families in the North West 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 can feel impossible to escape from.

“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.”