As much as 11% of the UK’s population is struggling to manage debts but they aren’t simply people living beyond their means, credit cards maxed-out on luxuries. I know from my surgeries that people trapped in debt are often just trying to meet basic bills and at Westminster I have been working to raise awareness of the problems they face.
There can be many reasons that people get into debt: low income, job loss, a relationship breakdown and illness as well as obviously sometimes poor money management. The looming cuts in public spending will add to the pressure on many household budgets, in particular the sharp reductions in housing benefit which will affect many people here in Edinburgh.
At present, credit companies can charge as much as they like for loans which can sometimes be as high as £80 for every £100 lent but some people may feel they have little choice but to turn to doorstep lenders or even loan sharks who prey on the vulnerable.
There must be alternatives such as credit unions for people on low income desperate for short-term loans, and we have to make sure the Social Fund works properly when someone applies for help in an emergency.
It’s also vital there is somewhere that people can go to for free confidential advice and I am organising a meeting next month at Westminster on that.
Often people try to hide their problems from friends and family for as long as possible even though they can be under enormous stress but there are places you can go for help such as
National Debtline Scotland
0808 808 4000
Consumer Credit Counselling Service
0800 138 1111
Citizens Advice Scotland
0844 848 9600 (Pilton CAB)
Granton Information Centre
0131 551 2459 / 0131 552 0458 / 0131 538 7750/ 0131 538 7760
The first two offer advice online and over the phone whilst Citizens Advice and Granton Information Centre also offer face-to-face advice.
The evidence is that in recent years more and more people have been coming for help with multiple debts, often because someone uses a credit card or takes out a loan to cover an existing debt. It is always best to ask for help at an early stage before the problems spiral out of control.
When people do seek help, it’s important that they don’t have to wait too long for an appointment as the problems are often urgent. One of the first things that the last Government did when the financial crisis struck was to provide extra funding for these organisations and I hope that they will get the funding necessary from the new Coalition in the future for them to continue the brilliant work that they do.
People struggling to manage their debts are often bravely trying to sort out their problems but they shouldn’t have to do it alone. We must do all we can to ensure they get the support they need to emerge from the nightmare and put their lives back on track.