This year has been challenging for everyone, and as Advent begins, many of us will be relieved as it draws to a close and we can begin to look forward to Christmas. But new research from organisations including Stepchange and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that for people weighed down by debt, Christmas will be harder than ever.
Research by StepChange places Covid-related household debt at £10.3 billion, and that 2.7 million people are at risk of falling into long-term financial difficulty because of this crisis in household debt.
The news from the spending review that the Government hasn’t committed of the £20/week uplift to Universal Credit comes as a disappointment to campaigners and another huge challenge for families who have been relying on the uplift to make ends meet.
Around Advent, our thoughts start turning towards home: returning home for Christmas, decorating the place where we live, or – for Christians – thinking about the long journey of Mary and Joseph to find a resting place for the birth of their child. But unpayable debt is threatening homes this Christmas as millions fall into rent arrears. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have found that around 2.5 million households across Britain will struggle to pay their rent this year – including four in ten of all families with children. As many as 350,000 people are at risk of eviction, and nearly 700,000 are already in rent arrears. That’s at least £400 million in arrears in England and Wales alone.
Young people, black and minority ethnic renters, and people with lower incomes have been the hardest hit.
It’s clear from these figures that the protections which were put in place by the Government at the start of the pandemic aren’t working for everyone, and particularly not for a large number of renters. When nearly 2/3 of hard-pressed families on Universal Credit were borrowing money to stay afloat during lockdown, it’s obvious that the system just doesn’t work as an adequate safety net in these extraordinary times.
Reset the Debt came about because churches on the frontline of providing food and essentials could see from experience that this exceptional situation required an exceptional solution. The crisis in debt is continuing to grow, and as we approach Christmas, the looming rent arrears and evictions facing many families will only become more stressful and more impossible to pay.
This Christmas is a time to give families burdened by debt a fresh start and a more hopeful future. Why not send your MP a Reset the Debt bauble to ask them to remember their constituents weighed down by debt this Christmas? Or, if you’re a church leader, sign our letter to the Chancellor which brings this issue to his attention and asks for a comprehensive solution.