Our debt problems are close to an epidemic

The nation's debt problems have become an epidemic that needs solving with a national campaign to bring the issue into the open, similar to that undertaken by the Government in the 1980s with AIDS awareness.

That's the conclusion of a major report from Government think-tank The Smith Institute, published in conjunction with debt charity StepChange.

It shows that one in four households has a negative cash position and one in 10 has net debts of more than £5,000. The report also highlighted the growing menace of payday lenders by revealing that the worst-off households owe half their debts to high-interest creditors.

Lord Stevenson, chair of StepChange, pointed out that "six million people in the UK have problem debt".

But things are set to get much worse, according to the report. It warns that the traditional view that having high levels of debt is associated with youth is changing. "Many of tomorrow's borrowers have made no plans for their retirement," it says, concluding that people will accumulate greater debts in early life and take longer to pay them off.

It means that by 2025 more older people than ever will be trapped in personal debt. "This presents a serious problem which has negative consequences for individuals and for society as a whole".

"Britain is sleepwalking to a more serious debt crisis," warned Paul Hackett of the Smith Institute. The report called for a "concerted national campaign on a par with the AIDS awareness campaign of the 1980s or the five-a-day fruit and vegetable campaign".

The report also called for a bigger effort at improving financial literacy, especially among the young.

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