ALMOST a fifth of St Helens families are at risk of being plunged into serious financial difficulties - and researchers say children could be the victims of this ‘debt trap’.

New research reveals that 18 per cent of families in St Helens and Whiston are living with ‘problem debt’. This is slightly higher than the north west average.

Neighbouring towns, including Warrington and Wigan, also have a higher than average number of at-risk families.

For these families, who cannot keep up with household bills and loan repayments, just one unexpected setback - such as illness or redundancy – could bring on financial crisis, according to The Children’s Society.

Across St Helens and Whiston, it is estimated there are 7,957 children living in families with problem debt and that a total of £21,379,720 is owed by these families.

An investigation by charities The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt earlier this year found that debt puts stress on family relationships and traps families in a downward borrowing spiral.

The report showed how family debt can cause children to suffer from worry and anxiety, experience bullying and miss out on essentials.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, 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. We cannot allow children to pay the price of debt.”

He explained that families with children face extra pressures as they are more likely to face unexpected bills and are less able to cope with sudden financial shocks, like redundancy or reduced hours. As the financial struggle begins, many feel that taking on credit is the only way to cope and this marks the beginning of the ‘debt trap’ as repayments begin take up a larger proportion of income and families cut back on essentials.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “This research is a stark warning to policymakers, creditors and the wider society of the devastating effects of debt on children.

“As parents become trapped in a toxic cycle of debt, children can become the unwitting victims. This is not acceptable in a society that aspires to justice and fairness.”

The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity are asking the Government to take a set of measures including developing a ‘breathing space’ scheme to allow struggling families an extended period of protection from additional charges, further interest and enforcement action.

For information about managing debt, call StepChange on 0800 138 1111 or visit their website at

More information on The Children’s Society is available at