Salvation Army Captain Alex Cadogan is better-placed than most to assess the financial health of families in Preston.
The food bank he oversees in the city helps out hundreds of people plunged into poverty by spiralling debt.
This Christmas there are double the numbers being referred to the Harrington Street centre for food parcels than last year.
“Debt is the most serious issue with the families we help,” said Capt Cadogan. “The fact that these people can’t afford to eat properly is usually because what money they do have is taken up with other things - particularly debts.
“I have worked in many areas of the country and, if I’m totally honest, in 2013 I never expected it to be at this level.”
The Preston food bank offers a weekly lifeline to more than 400 families and that figure is growing at an alarming rate. But with help restricted to only those referred by other agencies, it still represents just the tip of the iceberg in a city of 140,000 people.
“Debt is a big, big problem in our society,” said Capt Cadogan. “It gives us all a sense of insecurity because, if you are in a job, you are encouraged to take out credit and run up bills. But it only takes a crisis like losing your job and suddenly you’re tipped into a spiral of debt.
“In desperation people get duped into going to loan sharks who charge phenomenal rates of interest, sometimes in excess of 1,000 per cent. It’s just obscene.
“We have one lady at the moment who came to us for help. She can’t read or write, yet somehow she managed to get herself into real debt. Suddenly she started getting all these letters. She couldn’t read them, she knew they were bad news, but she had to bring them to us to decipher.
“She knew she was in trouble, but she buried her head in the sand. It’s a nightmare now and it’s gone too far.”