“Families struggle under debt crisis” was the headline of the August 13th edition of Southend Echo. The story went on to point out that in Southend “figures show 7,000 kids are in debt-ridden families” and the call of campaigners “for families to debt to get more support so they don’t turn to payday loan companies to make ends meet”.
One of the quotes that I felt was particularly relevant was from Richard Leadley of Christians Against Poverty, which, as far as my own town of Southend is concerned, runs a debt advice centre and one of the Foodbanks (discussed in an earlier post). “Some of the clients I see are really struggling. There is a lack of basic budgeting knowledge, which, coupled with irregular benefit payments, makes it difficult for people to manage their money. If people don’t know how they are spending money, it is easy to run out. When circumstances change, or emergencies arise, there is no fall-back position. So many people do not have an extended family who are able to support them either emotionally of financially, so often the people they turn to are the doorstep lender and pay day loan companies, all of which charge exceptionally high rates of interest, which worsens the situation”.
For some that read this, much of what Mr Leadley says does not come as a surprise, and it is always humbling as well as gratifying when we learn there are people who are trying to make a difference, as I have no doubt some of my readers are currently doing. But there is room for a lot more to be done and sharing ownership of the problem. Some years ago Southend had a credit union, which among other things could provide an alternative to loan sharks. I was keen to invest in it but sadly the scheme failed. The austerity cuts and with banks being less willing to lend money may have encouraged people to tighten their belts, but for some this has removed some of the ways to escape problems around debt. As the article pointed out, debt is something that can beset all of us, including middle class families. Reasons include redundancy, benefit hold ups or cuts altogether, illness and bereavement and unexpected emergencies, and in some cases does mean many families go without essentials, such as food, and having to sell cherished possessions in order to raise money for essentials. Two of the subtitles to this article were “Plight of children in families living under a mountain of debt” and “Revealed: despair that drives people to the foodbanks”.
At the time I began this post, I came across a piece by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali that had the intriguing title: “a tsunami of social disintegration waiting to happen” where he reflects on the growing impoverished underclass of problem families which as far as the bishop was concerned is “only the tip of an iceberg which is lurking to shipwreck society“. He attributes much of this to the breakdown of the family and societal trends that have led to this. In one way, this article is unrelated to the Echo one, discussed above, since in the latter debt is not even mentioned, yet the common factor is that children are suffering as a consequence of calamity, and both relate to a distressing malaise that is beginning to grip our society.
As a community activist, gospel preacher and concerned individual, I have been following some of these things for some time, have commented on what is and what could and should be, as well as doing my bit at the “coal face” to make a difference, and I write to highlight the problem and to urge others to help also.