William Eichler 23 September 2016

Councils who chase debt may ‘damage’ children’s mental health

Local councils who chase families over unpaid debts may be ‘inflicting real damage’ to children’s mental health, charity warns.

A new study by The Children’s Society has found debt collection—visits from bailiffs, repeated phone calls, the threat of eviction—can have a negative impact on a child’s mental state.

They also discovered that children in low-income families with multiple debts are at higher risk of suffering from mental health problems than those in families who owe money to a single type of creditor.

The charity concluded it is the number of debts owed rather than the total amount that is the crucial factor when considering the relationship between debt and mental problems in children.

An estimated 2.4m children in England and Wales are living in households with problem debt. The charity’s report, The Damage of Debt, found 23%—over 500,000—of children in debt-ridden families report being unhappy with their lives.

This means that children living in families struggling with problem debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than those in families without debt troubles.

The Children’s Society has urged the Government to provide a 12-month breathing space for families in problem debt, giving them time to seek advice so they do not then face visits from bailiffs.

‘The misery that debt can cause parents is well documented but now we can also demonstrate the real damage it can do to children’s mental health,’ said the charity’s chief executive, Matthew Reed.

‘It’s time this country paused and gave families the breathing space they need to escape the debt trap. Families need an affordable route out that does not force them to make impossible decisions between feeding and clothing their children, and paying the bills.

‘Without Government action to give struggling parents time to get their finances in order children will continue to be the innocent victims.’

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