Agenda: Debt will be the legacy of this cost of living crisis
THE cost of living crisis has felt almost inescapable for the past year, from soaring energy bills, higher prices of food, to increased interest rates and prices at the pumps while for many of us we’ve been living from wage to wage, often seeing income effectively stand still while our outgoings go up and up.
It’s an issue for the here and now, but like any crisis, it will also leave a legacy. That is likely to be one of increased poverty and personal debt.
This week we’ve launched our "Debt Happens" campaign, with some startling research – an estimated 460,000 people expect to go into debt during the cost of living crisis, while 644,000 anticipate an increase in their existing debts.
Those are huge figures and they reflect a reality that many of us are having to go into overdraft, dip into our savings or increase borrowing on credit cards simply to cover the essentials. Many others are coming to our network seeking budgeting advice to stay afloat, asking about what support measures are out there and how they can access them. We of course provide that support but the sting in the tail is that once the Government’s cost of living support measures are withdrawn – and we saw in the Budget just the other day that the Energy Price Guarantee is to end in June – we know we’ll see many of these same people back needing our help due to debt taking hold.
Our campaign is about encouraging people who are in debt or at risk of debt to seek advice quickly. In this environment, debt happens. Energy bills, even with government support, are far higher than they were even a year ago, meanwhile people on variable mortgages may have seen their monthly payments soar. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about if you fall behind on payments in these circumstances.
Free, impartial and confidential advice is available from the CAB network. Crucially this help is open to everyone, regardless of their background or circumstance, and whether you are working or not.
One example we saw recently was a single father of two children who sought our help after increased mortgage payments saw him paying around £1,100 a month on his mortgage, secure loan and council tax debt as well as facing other debts including a bank overdraft, credit cards and a personal loan.
The CAB gave him an income maximisation check and referred him for energy-saving advice. Following this advice, he now has disposable income which can be used to repay his debts by pursuing a potential Mortgage to Shared Equity Scheme to help reduce his ongoing costs for the mortgage and secured loan
That’s just one example of the thousands of people who’ve received our help, and meanwhile millions check our online advice pages every year.
It can be easy to be dismissive about whether help is out there, but it is. We recognise it can be hard to go and ask for that help, but ignoring mounting bills just deepens your debt and leads to anxiety. So if you are struggling, make this the day you start to take control of your finances. We won’t judge you – we just want to help. See www.cas.org.uk/debt-happens.
Myles Fitt is head of Financial Health policy at Citizens Advice Scotland.