Children suffer serious mental health damage if their parents have multiple debts, a charity has warned.
The number of debts the family has is a more significant contributing factor to this problem than the amount owed, according to The Damage of Debt: a report published by the Children’s Society this week.
Families who have to pay back more than one source at a time, like utility companies, banks, payday lenders or even family and friends, experience higher rates of mental health issues than those with a larger, single debt. The prospect of facing multiple debts “ramps up the pressure on financially stressed households”.
This level of debt means children are unable to socialise normally by going on school trips, taking up sports or joining clubs. They can also miss out on birthdays, holidays and family gatherings. Some feel embarrassed that they do not own things their peers consider normal, and others regularly worry about their parents’ financial situation. These factors leave children with a low sense of self-worth and diminished confidence.
Perhaps as many as 2.4 million children in England and Wales live in households with multiple debts, the Children’s Society’s estimated in its report. Of those children around 23 per cent, or 500,000, say they are unhappy with their lives.
The charity’s Chief Executive Matthew Reed said that while the “misery that debt can cause parents is well documented … now we can also demonstrate the real damage it can do to children’s mental health”.
Struggling families needed “an affordable route out that does not force them to make impossible decisions between feeding and clothing their children, and paying the bills” in order to give them “the breathing space they need to escape the debt trap”.
He warned that “children will continue to be the innocent victims” if the government does not take action to give parents time to get their finances in order.