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

Just-about-managing families risk going under. How can you protect yourself?

Coventry - where 70% of people are just-about-managing

When the government created the patronising term 'JAMs' - to describe people who are just-about-managing, they may have infuriated millions with their condescending attitude, but they also identified a terrifying trend. At the moment, just under half of UK households say they are 'just-about-managing', and in some areas this shoots up to as many as 70%.

Research from identified those areas where people are struggling the most. Coventry topped the list (where 70% of people consider themselves to be JAMs), followed by Chelmsford and Bristol.

See also: Dramatic increase' in numbers of men in low-paid part-time work

See also: Half of all people think they are 'just about managing'

See also: Autumn Statement: will it help the 'just-about managing'?

Top ten of struggle
Coventry - where 70% of people consider themselves to be JAMS
Chelmsford - 63%
Bristol - 58%
Plymouth - 58%
Gloucester - 55%
Newcastle- 53%
Sheffield - 53%
Glasgow - 51%
Oxford - 50%
Southampton - 50%

London made it to 11th place on the list at 49%, while Edinburgh residents fared better at 39% and Cardiff inhabitants did even better - with just 28% of people considering themselves to be just-about-managing.

Unexpected expenses

One of the problems, the researchers found, was that people are having to spend everything they make each month, which means unexpected expenses throw everything into jeopardy. Respondents to the survey said they suffered four unexpected expenses a year.

Cars were responsible for much of this unexpected outlay - costing an average of £226 in surprise costs. Some 52% of people had at least one car shock in the previous 12 months, while two in five said they knew there was a problem, but had been forced to just let it get progressively worse. Household bills coming out of the blue were responsible for £239 worth of unexpected expenses, while pets accounted for £80, and Christmas for £93.

Because we are living so close to the edge, these unexpected costs are unaffordable for many. One in five said they couldn't cover the cost of over £100, and 14% said they had to give up necessities to afford it.

Worryingly, there are plenty of people who feel they have no other option but to borrow to pay for these expenses. As a result, the average Brit takes four months to pay off unexpected expenses, and almost one in ten are still repaying it 10 months later.

If they are borrowing this through an expensive route - like an existing credit card, overdraft or payday loan, the fact it takes so long to repay can be horribly expensive, and in the case of payday loans can mean paying several times over for your borrowing.

What can people do?

Unfortunately, the solution comes back to the budget. If you are only just managing to make ends meet - with nothing left to put aside for these emergencies - then the budget needs to be squeezed.

If you haven't shopped around for everything from gas and electricity to groceries, then this is a vital tool in building a safety net.

If you have already got the cheapest version of everything possible, then unfortunately the job gets harder. We need to think carefully about what we consider necessities, and whether we can genuinely afford a holiday, a car, a mobile phone or a media package. In some cases this goes as far as considering the fundamentals of where you live.

If you have already cut your expenses to the bone, then it becomes an even more difficult process of addressing what's coming in - and whether there is any chance of taking on other work, or applying for tax credits or benefits.

The process isn't pleasant, but in many cases it can free up a little spare cash to put aside for these unexpected expenses each month. It will put you back on a firmer footling, and once you have this safety net, and you no longer have to borrow, then your outgoings will automatically reduce because you're not having to pay interest on your debts.

It's a terrible position for anyone to find themselves in, in the 21st century, when we should all be able to afford certain comforts in life. However, if people are going to keep managing, and keep their heads above water, then we have precious little choice in the matter.

Most common causes of debt

Most common causes of debt