How debt can affect children

How debt can affect children

Did you know that debt can affect children and their mental health? This was Children's Mental Health Week, and finances were just one of the areas in focus.

In this guest blog post, Clare Bracey, director of campaigns at The Children's Society, tells us about the Debt Trap campaign to help vulnerable families struggling with debt.

See also: Report reveals families on a financial knife-edge

See also: The UK cities where we face the biggest battle to make ends meet

It's a painful fact that many children and young people in the UK are experiencing emotional and mental health problems, often alone and in silence.

At The Children's Society, we've been looking at the negative effects that debt can have on a child's mental health. We know that debt puts an immense strain on families, with bailiffs knocking at the door, a barrage of letters and phone calls, and the fear of eviction. It's a terrifying situation for any parent, let alone a child, and it can have long term consequences for their physical and mental health.

Our research found that children growing up in families in problem debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than those in families without debt troubles, and when you consider that there are an estimated 2.4 million children living in families who have fallen into problem debt, then you can see the scale of the problem.

The effect of debt on children

For children, debt can undermine their relationships with their peers and may mean missing out on socialising or school trips, leaving them feeling isolated, excluded and ashamed. In some cases they are going without basics such as food, clothing or heating. They can feel a sense of failure for not being able to help their parents deal with their debts, leaving them with lower self-confidence and self-worth.

Many families are under enormous pressure, struggling to cope with low wages and rising bills, and it can take just one unexpected set-back - like a serious illness, losing a job, domestic violence or the boiler packing in - to push a family over the edge, and once in the debt trap, it can be incredibly hard to recover from as fees and charges quickly mount up.

How to stop the damage debt does to children

We want to stop the damage that debt is doing to children, which is why we want to see a 'breathing space' scheme, which would make a massive difference to families in problem debt – it would stop debts from increasing for a period of up to 12 months and allow families to tackle their debts in a manageable way, without visits from intimidating bailiffs, giving them the time and space to get their finances in order and get the mental health support they need.

Children shouldn't have to pay the price of debt with their mental health. You can find out how to support our call for a "breathing space" by visiting The Children's Society website.

This guest post is from The Children's Society and doesn't necessarily reflect the views of the Money Advice Service.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

Most outrageous bill mistakes
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Most outrageous bill mistakes
Carol Sandford, 72, called 118 118 from her mobile phone unaware of the charges involved. Calls to the number cost £1.88 per call and there is also a £2.57 per minute charge from landlines. TalkTalk raises this to £5.68 for the first minute and £3.28 per minute after that. TalkTalk told Carol the charge £81.12 charge was correct but luckily 118 118 were kinder, offering to repay the charge in full. Read the full story here.
One Londoner was more than a little confused when his debit card was declined while he was trying to buy just six bottles of American craft beers. But he quickly realised that instead of the £22.30 he owed, he had been charged £223,000! It's thought he punched in the PIN number before the machine was ready and it added the numbers to the total. Luckily the 28-year-old saw the funny side and laughed the incident off. Read more on the story here.

Early Lewis from Detroit was amazed to find his water bill was almost 100 times as much as he was expecting. The bill claimed that Lewis had used 3,740 gallons of water in just one hour. Thankfully common sense prevailed and the Water and Sewage Department admitted it was a mistake and subsequently charged Lewis the $36 he should have been charged initially. Read more on this story here

George MacIntosh, 73, was charged a staggering £200 for premium-rate gambling texts he didn't intend to sign up for. Unfortunately this wasn't a scam but a legal service from a company called Zamano. It seems the retired vicar had accidentally signed up after responding to an initial text from the company. Read the full story here.
Philip Groves was amazed to receive a £1,411 bill from Vodafone last year for his 10-year-old daughter Trinity's phone. It turns out Trinity had watched 28 hours of instructional loom band videos on YouTube, assuming her phone was using wifi. But the wifi had cut out, leaving her phone using the data allowance at it's highest rate. Vodafone refused to cancel the bill and threatened legal action. Read more here
Daniel Pontin was in for quite a shock after opening a gas bill charging him £31,000 for a year's worth of gas in a one-bedroom home. Pontin claimed his meter was broken when he moved in and was initially charged £35 a month for six months before he stopped receiving bills. When the huge £31,000 estimated bill arrived Npower told Pontin to ignore it while they investigated. Read the full story here

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