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Thousands of families in debt crisis across Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 09:12 28 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:17 28 August 2014

Cromer and District Foodbank volunteer Ken Masters. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Cromer and District Foodbank volunteer Ken Masters. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2012

More than a quarter of families in north Norfolk and Great Yarmouth are struggling with debt, says a shock report.

Hidden debt in north Norfolk

Despite its seemingly affluent appearance many north Norfolk families have a “hidden” debt problem, according to experts.

The Rev Sharon Willimott, trustee of the Cromer and District Foodbank, said: “When people come to north Norfolk they think it is the gold coast of Norfolk. When you walk around Cromer and Holt everybody seems happy but family debt is hidden in the back streets. There is a stigma of being poor. The people who suffer the most are the children.”

Since January 1 this year the Foodbank gave out 55 vouchers to individuals or families who sought help from the charity’s five north Norfolk distribution centres – Cromer, Sheringham, Holt, Aylsham and North Walsham – because of debt.

Out of that group, six were families mainly from Cromer. The majority of them worked but were on low incomes.

Mrs Willimott said families in debt could not pay for the basics in life for their children including new school uniforms, shoes and winter coats.

In 2012, well-heeled Holt was named as the child poverty blackspot of north Norfolk, with 24pc of young people living in homes where income was below 60pc of average earnings and families struggled to meet basic needs like food, heating and transport.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said there was a long way to go to reduce the amount of families in debt crisis.

New figures show the apparently affluent area is the second worst in Norfolk when it comes to family debt – only slightly behind Great Yarmouth.

They are both some of the highest figures out of 59 areas in East Anglia which were surveyed.

Research by the Children’s Society and StepChange debt charity says 2,159 families - some 28pc of families in the district - are failing to make ends meet and keep up with household bills and loan repayments.

In Great Yarmouth there are 3,579 families in debt crisis, 30pc of the borough’s family population, compared to 1,948 in south Norfolk or 17pc of the family population.

Great Yarmouth debt problems

Seasonal employment, low wages and changes to the benefits system have pushed more and more Great Yarmouth families into problem debt, according Robert Lancaster, advice services manager for MAP, a charity providing support for the under 25s.

“One of the big problems is when people move in and out of work and their benefits are interupted. We see a lot of young parents going into rent arrears, but they often feel bullied by debt collectors into paying non-priorty debts. There used something called the ‘crisis loan’, which was abolished two years ago, but now people come out of low paid work and without savings they can not afford to feed their families. A lot of families find themselves suddenly destitute. They can’t afford electricity or heating or they turn to foodbanks.

“Cuts to benefits are hitting children. And if they lose their housing, that can interupt schooling. It’s an incredibly serious situation.”

Norfolk Rural Community Council chief executive John Clemo said the findings matched their own figures which showed the cost of living was the biggest issue facing people in rural communities.

It was caused by factors including high transport costs, higher energy costs in older properties, a history of low wages and high housing costs.

Mr Clemo said: “This mismatch between costs and wages will inevitably cause debt issues and this research highlights the very real burden of that debt on the children and families.”

He added that it cost 15-20pc more to live in rural areas and about 35pc more to deliver rural services.

The Children’s Society and StepChange report aims to show the impact of family debt on children.

As household budgets go into the red, parents take on extra credit to pay for essentials for their children.

Youngsters also become unhappy at having to go without and worry about their family’s problems.

Freda Sheehy, manager of Norwich Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), said some people who went to the organisation for help were at the end of their tether and could not cope.

Sue Bradshaw, centre manager for the Fenland branch of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) charity, said it mainly used to help single mothers but over the past five years clients had changed and it was helping more homeowners and working families.

She said reasons why people got into debt included the recession, cutbacks in the private and public employment sector and relationship breakdowns.

“The saddest thing is when families struggle to feed their children,” Mrs Bradshaw said.

For advice call MABS on 01603 506500 or CAP on 0800 3280006.

REGIONAL STATISTICS

Figure 1 relates to the number of families in problem debt.

Figure 2 is the percentage of families in problem debt compared to the district’s total family population.

Figure 3 is the number of children in families with problem debt.

Figure 4 is the total debt owed by all families in the area.

GREAT YARMOUTH

3,579/30pc/6,237/£6,664,584

NORFOLK MID

3,051/27pc/5,317/£5,681,285

NORFOLK NORTH

2,159/28pc/3,763/£4,020,601

NORFOLK NORTH WEST

2,453/22pc/4,274/£4,566,879

NORFOLK SOUTH

1,948/17pc/3,394/£3,627,282

NORFOLK SOUTH WEST

3,403/28pc/5,930/£6,336,817

NORWICH NORTH

2,019/19pc/3,517/£3,758,388

NORWICH SOUTH

2,066/21pc/3,599/£3,845,793

SUFFOLK COASTAL

2,441/24pc/4,253/£4,545,028

WAVENEY

2,582/21pc/4,499/£4,807,241

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