Borough MP advocates for a ‘breathing space’ to help low income families manage problem debt

“Children living in families struggling with debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children in families who don’t have difficulty with debt, putting them at risk of developing mental health problems”.  These are the latest findings, published in a recent report by the Children’s Society into the issue of household problem debt.

The Children’s Society argue that when families fall into debt, parents often face impossible choices between keeping their children fed, warm and clothed or paying off their debts. This can lead to debts spiralling out of control, with interest rates and charges piling up.

Now, Meriden MP Dame Caroline Spelman is supporting calls in Parliament to bring in new legislation to help struggling families get on top of their debts.  

The MP, who is publically backing the campaign to introduce a breathing space, recently took part in a debate in Westminster Hall, led by fellow Conservative MP, Kelly Tolhurst, to introduce a Bill to tackle this issue head on.

Speaking in the debate, Dame Caroline raised the issue of families facing Council Tax debt, and spoke of the important role that charities, such as Fair for You and Christians Against Poverty have to play in supporting families.

The MP, who also served as Second Church Estates Commissioner, also highlighted a new scheme, being piloted in Church of England Schools to teach financial literacy so that the next generation of children will be better equipped to cope with money and the pressure that is put on them at a young age to borrow money.

Dame Caroline said: “I am delighted to be able to support this Bill to bring in a ‘breathing space’, both in my role as a local MP, and as Second Church Estates Commissioner.

“Too many families across the UK are struggling with problem debt - and as this report demonstrates, there are an increasing number of cases whereby this comes at the expense of the youngest members of the family.

“Whilst I am pleased that the Church of England is championing a scheme in their schools to teach effective and responsible financial literacy, I believe that it is imperative that the Government backs a statutory ‘Breathing Space’ to help families  get back on track”.

Under current proposals, a statutory Breathing Space would;

  • Provide a year long scheme of protection from mounting debt
  • Support families to put in place a longer term debt repayment plan based on affordability for the family/young person
  • Prevent additional fees and charges from being levied for the period that the plan is in place.
  • Place a hold on enforcement action so that children aren't left intimidated and scared by visits from bailiffs and the parents’ debts don’t continue to accumulate.
  • Ensure that those providing advice have policies and services in place to identify and support vulnerable customers
  • Ensure that easy access routes are provided for the most vulnerable families and for young people living independently.