A new report, entitled Treading Water, has been published by the London Debt Strategy Group. It looks at the levels of debt affecting people in England’s capital – key findings include the fact that there has been a 75% increase in the number of young Londoners struggling with debt in last 3 years, and that the average figure owed by 17-24 year olds has risen from 3,500 to nearly 6,000. This is clearly weighing on people’s minds – the Legal Services Commission has reported a 140% increase in the amount of young people looking for debt advice in the period from November 2007 to December 2009.
Nationally, 10% is the average number of people in debt who are in arrears. In London, that jumps to 13%, which is higher than any other region. Where people are struggling to find the money for their repayments, this is leading to mental health problems, which has an impact on people’s ability to find work or stay in a job.
On average, the level of debt problems experienced by people suffering from long-term illness or disability is three times worse than the wider population. These groups, as well as those with mental health problems, lone parents, minority ethnic communities etc. are the most likely to benefit from debt advice.
With the recession in full force, Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes set up the London Debt Strategy Board in 2009 as a means of exploring the ways in which London’s debt services and debt advice facilities could be made better. The key concern is that debt goes beyond being a purely financial problem and becomes an issue of public health.
The Treading Water report, which is focused on ensuring that the help, advice and support available London’s debt-bound population is as good as it can possibly be, contains various practical recommendations such as increased lobbying for funding for free debt advice and better cooperation between agencies offering debt advice.
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