Almost one in three people in Blackpool are facing Christmas misery, drowning so heavily in debt they are unable to buy basic supplies, startling research revealed today.
Thirty per cent of working age and retired people living across the resort can no longer pay their bills and are facing a bleak festive season, findings from the Government’s Money Advice Service says.
And fears were raised today from those living in some of the town’s worst-hit communities that desperation is driving people to loan sharks and payday lenders in a bid to find a cheap fix to their mounting problems.
They claim those on benefits have been hit hardest because of changes introduced by the Government which have left people struggling to make ends meet.
The official data, in the report, Indebted Lives, reveals Blackpool is one of the country’s worst affected areas – and in the top 50 most indebted places to live.
It comes as Blackpool Council bosses approved plans to move the resort’s credit union into a unit on Birley Street, in the middle of a street of banks and pay-day lenders.
Latest figures from the Step Change debt charity, show Blackpool residents owe an average of more than £18,000.
Terry Bennett, chairman of Grange Park Community Partnership, said: “There are quite a few people who are in the same boat in the estate and are really not able to afford anything.
“There are a number of families living hand to mouth, having to check every weekend what’s in their bank account and whether they can afford shopping or just a bit of petrol.
“Over the years we’ve faced cuts to benefits and disability allowances – it’s cut backs to the most vulnerable people in society and it’s unrealistic.”
George Oxley, who offers debt advice at Fylde Christian Church Service, said Government policy of taking people off disability benefits and putting them on Job Seekers Allowance was compounding the issue for many.
It opened the door to desperation with many seeking pay day loans, he said.
Mr Oxley also runs a local food bank and he said there had been an explosion in demand in the run up to Christmas.
Nationally 8.8 million people are heavily in debt.
Hull, Nottingham, Manchester, Knowsley and Liverpool are the worst affected, all with more than 40 per cent of adults described as being “over-indebted”.
In Blackpool, the figures suggest 30 per cent of people in the town have been at least three months behind with their bills in the last six months or have said that they feel their debts are a heavy burden.
In Wyre around 14 per cent of adults are in a ‘debt crisis’ while in Fylde the figure is nine per cent.
Last year, Blackpool was named as having the highest rate of personal insolvencies in the country, with almost 58 per 10,000 adults.
National figures show consumer debt has trebled since 1993 and now stands at £158bn.
More than eight million households have no savings, including half of low-income households
Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said as an authority the council had “invested heavily” to offer low cost and affordable loans.
He said: “The issue of debt is a long-term one that cannot be fixed overnight.
“What we need to do is get more people into jobs that pay salaries that are good enough to live on, something this council is helping people with.
“By introducing the living wage, we can be sure that all council employees receive an acceptable pay packet each month and don’t need to get into debt just to survive.”
He added: “There is also a lot of help available for people through organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau and Advice Link and we have banned payday loan websites from public sector computers to discourage people from using them.”