More than a quarter of adults in Preston are in serious trouble with debt as Christmas looms, says a startling new
An estimated 27 per cent of working age and retired people in the city are facing a bleak festive season worrying about how they will pay the bills.
The survey, by the independent Money Advice Service, paints a shocking picture of life on the “never never” in hard-up Lancashire, with Preston one of the county’s blackspots for debt arrears.
“It’s a frightening situation,” said the Vicar of Preston, Fr Timothy Lipscomb. “I feel very sad for these people, it must be a terrifying place to be in.”
The new report called Indebted Lives reveals the debt spiral which has enveloped an estimated 8.8 million people in the UK.
Hull, Nottingham, Manchester, Knowsley and Liverpool are the worst affected, all with more than 40 per cent of adults described as being “over-indebted.”
Nationally the average is 18 per cent, with nine areas of Lancashire all above that figure. Burnley tops the list on 31 per cent, with Preston (27) not far behind.
Things are slightly better in Chorley (16.86), Wyre (13.74) and South Ribble (12.4). In the more affluent boroughs of Fylde and Ribble Valley the debt problem is down in single figures.
Preston Council’s Welfare Benefit Information Centre, which offers general debt advice, dealt with more than 11,000 enquiries from worried residents during the last financial year.
“It works out at something like 270 a week and there are only three of us working here,” said manager Adele Thompson. “We are snowed under.
“Debt always increases at Christmas because people think they should provide their children with things they have maybe seen on TV.
“Every day we see people who are upset and embarrassed, everything that goes with being unable to pay your way. Changes in the welfare system have had a big impact, but so too has the rise of payday lenders. People go to them in desperation.
“We have even had people coming in and admitting openly they are going to go out and steal to put food on the table, because they have nothing left.
“Our advice to anyone out there who feels like they are drowning in debt is: Don’t bury your head in the sand. There is help out there, so go and get it.”
Fr Timothy admits he has encountered many more cases of poverty this year than ever before. Even collections in church have fallen.
“There are an awful lot of people in a bad place at the moment,” he said. “We all struggle to balance our books, but some are in an impossible sitiuation that I fear they will never get out of.
“It’s a frightening situation and it needs highlighting. Many people currently don’t have great expectations, they can’t do anything other than mark time really.
“I feel very sad for these people, it must be terrifying.”