'Scary' debt problems driving people to suicide
PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 April 2015 | UPDATED: 09:38 22 April 2015
THOUSANDS of people in Weston are on the brink of financial ruin, with some even resorting to suicide to escape from the clutches of devastating debt.
The constituency is a national hotspot for crisis calls made to debt charities by desperate borrowers, with one group saying debt is as big a problem in Weston as drug and alcohol addiction. In a stark example of how destructive serious debt can be, the Mercury hears from charities that are pushed to the limit by demand for debt advice and reveals the story of one Worle couple, who owe nearly £30,000.
With millions of pounds owed, and thousands of people seeking financial help every year, could Weston be facing a dangerous cash crisis?
New statistics from the National Debtline show Weston is a national problem area when it comes to personal debt. The amount of calls made to the charity from the town’s residents is one and a half times the national average, and cases of depression and even suicide have been reported in the area as people are unable to cope with the crippling burden of owing money.
Meanwhile, the North Somerset branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau, based in Weston town centre, had more than 1000 visits concerning debt problems in the last financial year.
Richard Muff, a debt caseworker from the North Somerset Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), has seen Weston residents take their own lives due to being unable to cope with the crippling burden of debt.
He said: “One of the biggest impacts on family life is having debts - I have seen it drive people in the area to commit suicide. Often when people come to us, it is a last resort and they cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Muff dealt with at least 100 cases in Weston last year involving debt relief orders (DROs); an option which he described as a ‘smaller form of bankruptcy.’ He stated that on average, the people he has seen who are in need of a DRO are in around £10,000 of debt each.
One DRO recipient, who was helped by the CAB, told the Mercury that being in debt was ‘daunting’.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said: “I am in £10,000 of debt and my partner owes almost £20,000. It is a daunting time and you don’t want everyone knowing. You just don’t know whether you’re coming or going, and it puts the entire family under stress.
“We got into debt with rent and a few other people too. We just ignored it and didn’t know what to do. It led to me being diagnosed with depression.”
“We are good people and a bit of a mess turned into something massive. But the CAB put us at ease and I came out of there smiling, because I know it would all be ok.”
The Weston Foodbank, in North Street, gave food parcels to 235 people in debt in 2014. Its assistant manager, Barbara Wood, believes debt is on a par with addiction as the biggest problem facing the town.
She said: “It is a major problem in Weston, as even those with money can be affected by debt. This problem is only made bigger if you have less money coming in.
“Kids need to have their Christmas presents and that can put parents into debt. It has a massive impact.”
So why is Weston in so much debt? Tom Yacomeni, a Christians Against Poverty project coordinator at Locking Castle Church, believes mortgages could be to blame.
Mr Yacomeni said: “People in the Locking Castle area have got enormous mortgages and I feel the credit crunch is still crunching. Buyers were encouraged to take out huge mortgages with huge payments and it is a challenge.
“People come down the motorway to Weston to buy cheaper property compared to than in Bristol, and perhaps there was an encouragement to take out bigger mortgages.”
One financial figure believes the rise of payday loans could be to blame.
Jackie Simpson, general manager at the Somerset Savings and Loans credit union, said: “Payday loans make it relatively easy for people on low incomes to get credit and - although we do not see the stats here to confirm it - it could be that Weston, as a seaside town, is dealing with seasonal employment and an unskilled labour force.
“Maybe payday loans started off being for higher earners, but then people on low incomes started to borrow and get into difficulties. And it is so easy to get a payday loan. You only need to own a debit card – it’s scary.”
If you are worried about debt or other financial issues and need advice, click here for information from the North Somerset Citizens Advice Bureau.