Problem debt is putting stress on family relationships, damaging children and trapping families in a downward spiral of borrowing in the United Kingdom.

A total of 2.5 million children live in families with problem debt; they’re behind on more than $8 billion (about 4.8 billion pounds) of household bills and loan repayments.

A further 5 million children are in families that are struggling to keep up with repayments and risk falling behind.

Those are the finding of The Debt Trap, a new report from The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity.

This new report–backed by the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) and other denominations–highlights the devastating impact debt can have on children.

Their findings show that children are suffering worry and anxiety, bullying and going without essentials as their families are trapped in problem debt.

For example, more than half of children (58 percent) in families with problem debt say they worry about their family’s financial situation while nearly half of children (47 percent) in families with problem debt say it causes arguments in the family.

As families begin to struggle financially, many feel that taking on credit is the only way to make ends meet–a third of all families have had to borrow money to pay for essentials for their children in the last year.

This often marks the beginning of the debt trap as credit repayments begin to take up a larger proportion of income and as families find themselves cutting back on essentials.

The charities are calling for changes to how creditors treat families with children who fall behind on bills and repayments.

The government should review whether the protection for children against the harm caused by debt collection–including evictions, bailiffs and court action–is fit for purpose and consider developing a “breathing space” scheme to give struggling families an extended period of protection from additional charges, further interest and enforcement action.

A third of parents (32 percent) in problem debt said that councils were not helpful at all when they sought help with debts, and 42 percent of parents in problem debt said payday lenders treated them “badly” or “very badly.”

The report calls on every council to create a debt collection strategy, which takes into account the impact on families with children.

Regulators should make sure that creditors have “early warning systems” in place, so they know when their customers are facing financial difficulties and offer advice and support.

Earlier and wider access to debt support and advice could help families put the brakes on a downward cycle of debt and reduce the impact on children.

The report’s authors say that children should be learning about borrowing from their schools and families, rather than from advertising by lenders.

The charities call for tighter restrictions on advertising to children as well as piloting savings accounts for children through credit unions.

The report coincides with The Children’s Society’s launch of The Debt Trap–a campaign lifting the lid on the massive impact of debt on children’s lives.

“Debt is a hot issue and this work by The Children’s Society places children at the center of the debate,” said Stephen Keyworth, BUGB’s faith and society team leader, who is supporting the report and campaign.

“Not only does this report offer comprehensive new data, it presents us with a pause for thought and a call to action, challenging Christians to work together to enable people to find their way out of the debt trap.”

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said, “Families are increasingly relying on debt as a way to make ends meet, but we’re in danger of ignoring the impact this is having on children now and in the future. We cannot allow children to pay the price of debt.”

“With little savings to fall back on, it can take just one unexpected setback–like illness or being made redundant–to tip a family over the edge and into a debt trap that can feel impossible to escape from,” Reed said.

“This research exposes the shocking reality of parents lying awake at night worrying and unhappy children going without. Many families are feeling the squeeze, and parents struggling on low wages are battling just to pay the bills.”

The full report is available here.

Paul Hobson is the news editor of The Baptist Times, the online newspaper of The Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared on The Baptist Times site and is used with permission. You can follow the Baptist Times on Twitter @BaptistTimes.

Editor’s note: Robert Parham’s editorial focused on the destructiveness of debt at both the national and individual levels and highlighted the biblical teachings about debt. Articles related to predatory or payday lending are available here, and you can find out more about “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” an documentary on faith and taxes, here.

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