At some point in our lives, most of us end up in debt. Whether that is a mortgage, a credit card, or finance for a car – we’re used to facing debt in our daily lives. But what happens when debt gets out of control? When working families are taking out loans with eye-watering levels of interest just to get to the next pay day? The risk of uncontrollable debt is that people end up bankrupt and lives end up ruined, while loan companies and legal loan sharks make a killing.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the highest levels of personal debt can be found in areas with the highest levels of poverty and social deprivation. The rogue lending markets flourish where there are desperate people who feel there is nowhere else to turn. In South Yorkshire, one-in-five people have no savings and no safety net to support them in tough financial times. Barnsley and Doncaster are classified as ‘credit deserts’ – where a limited supply of credit is combined with a high demand, leaving vulnerable people at greater risk of financial abuse. Uncontrollable debt operates in a vicious cycle: once people are trapped it is difficult to escape from the shackles of the burden it creates, with missed payments and soaring interest rates keeping people trapped and putting greater pressure on their mental and physical health, their performance at work or their relationships.
That’s why the Demos South Yorkshire Good Credit Project is so important, and why I’m proud to support it. The Good Credit Project exists to provide practical support for local councils, housing providers, employers, credit unions and debt advice centres so they can help vulnerable people facing the looming prospect of uncontrollable debt. This Project is a lifeline for those struggling with bad credit, high-interest loans and mounting levels of debt.
As well as supporting the fantastic work of projects such as this, we also need to acknowledge the underlying, structural problems that perpetuate rising levels of personal debt. Our economy does not work for working people and their families. Too many people work hard, play by the rules and do not have enough money in their pocket at the end of the month to make ends meet. Increasingly, those defined as living in relative poverty are people in low-paid, insecure jobs (many of whom are maintaining two and three jobs to try and bridge the gap).
As well as diagnosing the problem, we need to identify bold solutions. That’s why I’m building an inclusive regional economy here in South Yorkshire – one in which everyone shares the benefits. It’s why I’m supporting people with mental health issues to get into and stay in work through the ‘Working Win’ programme, which had already seen over 5,000 referrals. It’s why I support restoring Trade Union rights in the workplace, to stand up for working people. And it’s why I want to transform our education system; investing in our children and young people to give them the best start in life and creating a world-class Adult Education system to enable people to retrain at any stage of their working lives.
I’m getting on with transforming our regional economy and education systems, and I’ll never lose sight of the reason why: to ensure that everyone has a stake in their community and a decent, secure, well-paid job.
Originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 March 2020.