Call for increased benefits as ‘cost of Christmas puts families in debt’

A DEBT advice charity has expressed concern about the impact of Black Friday and the holiday season on people struggling with the cost of living crisis.

StepChange is already seeing people worried about becoming homeless because they can’t pay their bills.

Others use the credit to buy food.

The charity warns that more people will find themselves in debt by Boxing Day and calls on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ease the pressure by increasing benefits in line with inflation in the next budget.

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“Last year around 50 people contacted us on Christmas Day because they were worried about their debts,” said Sharon Bell of StepChange, which helps around 40,000 people across Scotland.

“It should be a great time and it’s horrible to think that people are so down that they worry about their debts on Christmas Day.”

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has reported a 65% increase in the number of people taking five to 30 years to pay off their debts, based on customer data from spring 2021 to the start of this year – before the crisis in the cost of living really does hit home.

CAS Financial Health spokesperson Jemiel Benison, pictured, said the UK government’s decision to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week has had a devastating impact on people in debt.

Supporting calls for Sunak to increase benefits in line with inflation, he said: ‘What we are seeing is more people with no money every month, unable to repay their debt – therefore facing longer periods to pay it back.

“If the worst is yet to come in terms of inflation or recession, that is very worrying indeed.”

StepChange said the hype around Black Friday on Nov. 25 could lead people to buy items on credit, which would put even more pressure on them over Christmas.

“People in debt are already worried about Christmas and wondering if they will be able to afford it,” said the charity’s Sharon Bell. “We already have people coming to us who have to use credit to buy their posts because they can’t afford to pay otherwise. They just don’t have enough to live on and families are contacting us saying they don’t know where to use their electricity to turn on the lights and feed their children or whether to use it for other things like their children doing their homework. the computer.”

“We are also seeing more and more customers who are simply not able to maintain their homes and cover their bills.”

January, when the credit card bills come in, is the charity’s busiest time of year.

“The extra cost of Christmas is something we are very aware of at the charity,” Bell said.

“For many this Christmas is going to be very stressful and a real worry, but our message is that there is help available. Don’t think you are alone in this and try to find the courage to pick up the phone or go online to get the help you need.

Bell said other better-off people might consider supporting those in difficulty.

“Christmas should be a time of love and giving, but a lot of people worry about it, so we encourage others who are better off to support their local food bank or homeless charity, because there will be many more people than before who are homeless who will need help,” she said.

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StepChange has a team of 68 who support people across Scotland who are struggling financially.

As they are based in Glasgow, they are also supporting this year’s Glasgow Times Bank on Us appeal, which aims to save Christmas for families across the city.

He calls on Glasgow residents to donate toys to young people across the city and provide relief to hard-working mums, dads and carers facing an uncertain festive season due to the ongoing crisis. The aim is for every child in Glasgow to open a present on December 25.

Online debt advice is available at www.stepchange.org/scotland or call 0800 138 1111 (Mon-Fri 8am-8pm and Saturday 8am-4pm).