Soaring debt 'leaves low earners exposed to economic downturn'

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Britain's soaring debt levels are leaving the nation's lowest earners dangerously exposed to an economic downturn, a credit rating agency has warned.

Moody's said the UK's rising household debt and a weaker macroeconomic climate had forced analysts to downgrade four of five consumer structured finance sectors to negative. 

The bleak outlook came as the Bank of England revealed the scale household debt, with the amount borrowed by consumers on credit cards, loans and overdrafts soaring to £200 billion for the first time since the financial crash of 2008. 

Moody's analyst Greg Davies said: "Household debt is high and still growing, leaving consumers vulnerable to an economic downturn, while higher inflation, weaker wage growth and levels of indebtedness leaves those in lower-income brackets the most exposed.  

"An additional challenge is that households' capacity to draw on savings to maintain consumption and/or service their consumer debts has significantly diminished."

Soaring inflation triggered by the Brexit-hit pound has put household spending power under sustained pressure since the start of the year, causing credit card spending to increase and savings to fall. 

Bank of England official Alex Brazier said last week that high street banks were edging towards a "spiral of complacency" when it came to consumer lending.

Mr Brazier, executive director of financial stability, hinted that the Bank may ask lenders to raise their capital buffers even further come September if concerns over the growth of household debt persist.

The Bank has raised concerns over surging levels of unsecured consumer borrowing on credit cards and car finance, which is rising by more than 10% a year and outstripping incomes.

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) has told lenders to prove they are not taking on too much risk by September as it tightens up scrutiny of the sector.

It follows a warning from Governor Mark Carney that lenders were "forgetting the lessons of the past", with the Bank's raising the alarm over signs of more lax lending controls and ballooning borrowing.

Moody's has also sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the potential economic damage caused by Britain failing to secure an exit deal with the European Union. 

It said the UK economy could suffer "significance macroeconomic disruption" and be tipped into recession in the event of a "no deal" scenario.