North Norfolk families facing debt crisis

Methodist minister the Rev Sharon Willimott who is trustee of Cromer and District Foodbank. PHOTO: A

Methodist minister the Rev Sharon Willimott who is trustee of Cromer and District Foodbank. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

More than a quarter of families in north Norfolk are struggling with debt, says a shock report.

New figures show the apparently affluent area is the second worst in the county when it comes to family debt – only slightly behind Great Yarmouth which is better-known for its social problems.

Research by the Children's Society and StepChange debt charity says more than 2,000 families, some 28pc, are failing to keep up with household bills and loan repayments.

There are 30pc in Great Yarmouth, and just 17pc in the best area, south Norfolk

The report aims to show the impact of family debt on children. As household budgets go into the red, parents take on extra credit to pay for essentials for their children. Youngsters also become unhappy at having to go without and worry about their family's problems.

The Rev Sharon Willimott, trustee of the Cromer and District Foodbank, said: 'When people come to north Norfolk they think it is the gold coast of Norfolk. When you walk around Cromer and Holt everybody seems happy but family debt is hidden in the back streets. There is a stigma of being poor. I wonder how many people are out there struggling but not talking about their problems?'

It was a great shame that society did not encourage people to talk about debt problems, she added. 'The people who suffer the most are the children.'

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Since January 1 this year the Foodbank gave out 55 vouchers to individuals or families who sought help from the charity's five north Norfolk distribution centres – Cromer, Sheringham, Holt, Aylsham and North Walsham – because of debt.

Out of that group, six are families mainly from Cromer who are still receiving food handouts. The majority of those families work, but are on low incomes and have children aged four to 14.

Mrs Willimott, who was not surprised by the figures, said families in debt could not pay for the basics in life for their children including new school uniforms, shoes and winter coats.

They also struggled to pay for basic house bills including electricity and water.

Norfolk Rural Community Council chief executive Jon Clemo said the findings matched their own figures which showed the cost of living was the biggest issue facing people in rural communities.

It was caused by a combination of factors including high transport costs; higher energy costs in older often more poorly insulated, properties; a history of low wages and high housing costs.

Mr Clemo said: 'This mismatch between costs and wages will inevitably cause debt issues and this research highlights the very real burden of that debt on the children and families.'

He added that it cost 15-20pc more to live in rural areas and about 35pc more to deliver rural services.

People in north Norfolk needed 8.38 times the average income to buy the average house in the area.

What do you think? Email nnn.letters@archant.co.uk

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