New: the public health implications of rising debt

02 October 2018

This Challenge Poverty Week, we’re highlighting concerns about the potential damage to mental and physical health from the high levels of personal, unsecure debt currently seen in the UK.

Personal debt, including credit cards, overdrafts and short-term loans, is at its highest level in the UK since before the 2008 economic recession – estimated by the TUC to be approximately 27 million borrowers having an average of £14,300 of debt in 2018.

Our new report highlights that the reasons why people use unsecure debt have changed in recent years. Prior to the recession unsecure debt was typically used for larger purchases such as cars, televisions or white goods. Increasingly this form of debt is used to pay for food, rent and essential household utilities, as many people and families use debt ‘to make ends meet’. 

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) estimates that 4.5 million (1-in-6) borrowers in the UK experience ‘financial distress’ and have difficulty coping with or repaying their debt. Evidence is clear that those with unsecure, personal debt are more likely to have mental disorders including depression, anxiety, problem drinking and even suicidal thoughts; there are also established links to physical health problems. 

Our report emphasises approaches to reduce poverty such as increases to the minimum wage and the adoption of the Living Wage alongside multi-agency ‘debt care pathways’ primarily involving NHS primary care and debt advice agencies. These pathways should include approaches to improve the mental, physical and financial health of vulnerable borrowers. 

Download briefing paper 54: The public health implications of rising debt 

Download the press release (PDF) 

Follow Challenge Poverty Week online with #ChallengePoverty

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