For the first time, Britons' personal debt exceeds Britain's GDP

Another worrying milestone on a nation's journey deeper into debt

Britons have racked up so much debt on loans and credit cards that the total borrowed now exceeds the entire value of the economy, new research shows today. The financial consultant Grant Thornton is forecasting that gross domestic product (GDP) will hit £1.33 trillion this year, less than the £1.35trn which was outstanding on mortgages, credit cards and personal loans in June.

The symbolic overtaking is the first time that the country's 60 million people owe more to the banks than the value of everything made by every office and factory in the country. It prompted a warning that personal borrowing was so out of control that many more people would be pushed over the "financial edge". The runaway housing market is the biggest reason why consumer debt has spiralled, totalling £1.131trn. Debt on personal loans and credit cards totals £214bn. Overall, individuals owe the staggering sum of £1,344,721,000,000.

Grant Thornton ascribed the level of borrowings to a "buy now, pay later" culture and warned that interest rate rises could impose a significant burden on families and individuals. "Fortunately, most consumer debt is secured and can be repaid over several years otherwise we would be technically bankrupt," its chief economist, Stephen Gifford, said.

The research further darkens the storm clouds gathering over the British economy. Repossessions, personal insolvencies and debt judgments have all risen by about a third in the past year as borrowers have struggled to cope with the impact of five rate rises in a year.

Yesterday the financial website moneyexpert.com suggested that 2.5 million people were "very concerned" about their personal financial situation.

In the United States, the sudden failure of the poor to repay home loans in recent months has sparked a "sub-prime" crisis that has spooked the financial markets and wiped billions of pounds off share prices.

Responding to the latest figures, the Bank of England predicted debts would remain a "social" rather than an "economic" problem, indicating it believes indebtedness will be contained to individuals rather than threaten businesses.

Grant Thornton's notional payback date for personal debt has advanced markedly through the calendar during the past 10 years. In 1997 the UK took until 23 August to pay off its debt, but this year the date will be 5 January the following year, 2008.

Mark Allen, a personal insolvency partner, said it was not uncommon to encounter individuals with debts of £50,000 spread across five credit cards on top of a mortgage. "In our experience these are the sort of people walking a perilous financial tightrope," he said. "All it takes is an increase in costs or, as is the present case, a rise in mortgage premiums due to higher interest rates, to force people to default on their repayments - hence the increase in bankruptcies and individual voluntary arrangements."

Repossession leapt 30 per cent in the first six months of this year compared with the first half of last year. County court judgments rose 32. 5 per cent and personal insolvencies in England and Wales 33 per cent to more than 62,000 last year.

Mortgage payments are making ever-larger dents in household income, rising from 12.5 per cent in 1997 to 17.6 per cent in May this year. Datamonitor, the independent financial analyst, warned this week that the total number of Britons credit blacklisted by 2011 will jump by 20 per cent to 8.6 million.

Moneyexpert.com suggested in its survey that 7 per cent of adults were "very concerned" about their ability to keep on top of their debts, which would amount to 2.5 million adults. However, 40 per cent of the 2,000 respondents were unconcerned about their ability to manage their borrowings.

Malcolm Hurlston, the chairman of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, said Grant Thornton's research made a symbolic point. "Basically speaking, it's just a mathematical question: the relationship between GDP and borrowing. It's really another way of saying that house prices have been going up quicker than wages," he said. "But what is happening is that unsecured debt is less of a problem than it used to be, whereas secured debt is the problem, and I think the Council of Mortgage lenders is expecting the figures for repossessions to get worse."

He added: "The problem on the secured front - mortgages - is getting worse because of the rising gap between house prices and incomes. In terms of volume, it's not going to be as bad as the early 1990s because the mortgage companies are gearing up for it - this time they will be trying to avoid repossessions as much as possible. But there's going to be a lot of activity and a lot of people will find that they can't pay the money back."

Mr Gifford said: "The level of debt has so far not caused much of a problem for the UK economy. Interest rates have been historically low and the UK economy has been ticking along healthily. But with five interest rate rises in the past year the picture is changing and becoming a burden for families and households."

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    SThree: HR Benefits Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

    £30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003