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Keywords:

  • Over-indebtedness;
  • debt;
  • advice;
  • social exclusion;
  • civil justice;
  • advice services

Abstract

In common with a number of other developed western states, the UK has seen significant growth of consumer debt over the past three decades. In tandem, there has been an associated increase on the demand for debt advice. Using data from the English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey, this article explores how debt problems are experienced across the population and goes on to contextualize the distinct nature of debt problems and their relationship to other problems of everyday life. Findings reaffirm the increased vulnerability to debt problems experienced by socially excluded groups, such as lone parents, those with a long-term illness or disability and the people with no academic qualification. Results go further to demonstrate that vulnerability is not constant but is also influenced by broader economic and social factors; in particular, findings demonstrate how problems directly associated with the economic downturn increase vulnerability to unmanageable debt and financial difficulty. Given this relationship, and the prolonged longevity of debt problems compared with other problem types, we would expect to see an increase in the experience of debt problems as the effects of the recession become fully apparent, and for some time thereafter. Discussion focuses upon the policy relevance of findings to frontline debt counselling and advice services operating within an increasingly tighter financial environment. Specifically, emphasis is placed upon potential benefits of offering debt counselling and advice as part of an array of other social welfare advice services, and even working across sectors to get better penetration into hard to reach groups.