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Seven in 10 who experience debt do so “due to a life shock”

Around 70 percent of the more than three million people in the UK in problem debt in 2018 had their situations exacerbated by shocking life events, according to a report from StepChange Debt Charity.

Around 23 million people have experienced a life shock in their household in the past two years, the charity found. It also found people who had experienced a life event in the last two years were three times as likely to be in problem debt than those who had not.


People with children, of working age, and on modest incomes are all at higher risk of life events pushing them into debt, the report found.


It also found that the more significant life events that an individual experiences, the more likely they are to fall into problem debt.


The report seeks to examine the nature of the financial coping mechanisms that people try to use when unexpected life events happen and understand why they are not necessarily effective.


The two most common coping strategies were to cut back on expenditure and to use savings for day-to-day spending.


Borrowing money from family and friends and using credit cards or overdrafts to cover day-to-day spending were the third and fourth most common strategies employed by people who had experienced a life event, followed by applying for benefits.


StepChange chief executive Phil Andrew said the scale of the problem “demands a co-ordinated approach”.


He said: “We know that many people, even those who are in work, are finding it hard to build up any level of protection against these common life shocks. We need policymakers to prioritise this issue and we want to work with them, and others, to identify how support can be improved to break the link between life shocks and problem debt.”

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