Simon Read: Financial ignorance is no excuse for not helping those who are facing extreme money problems

 

The big thing about falling into debt is that it can end in disaster. If you borrow more than you can afford, it can be very hard to wrest back control of your finances.

I mention that because this week I've spoken to quite a few people who have faced a financial abyss and recovered. The road to potential financial ruin is different for everyone.

In the case of Adam Brown, featured on page 53, it was a mixture of having difficulty in making the transition from a military life to a civilian one, compounded by being made redundant twice in quick succession.

With some of the other people I've spoken to this week they've fallen into debt because of other problems, such as a drink addiction or substance abuse. I'll be writing more about those in future weeks. Yet others have suffered financially because they've been tempted by easy credit to spend more than they can afford. I've written reams about the wrongs of those companies that push expensive credit onto vulnerable people that can't afford it.

But that doesn't mean that I'll be having a pop at irresponsible moneylenders and legal loan sharks this week. Instead I'd rather focus on the help that we give to desperate people. Or rather I'd like to highlight the fact that the help offered is often woefully inadequate.

While some of you may dismiss those that do get into debt difficulties as being 'weak' or in troubles of their own making, I don't believe that we should then abandon them as a lost cause.

What I've discovered from those I've spoken to this week is that there's a great will to survive. The constant message is that "If I'd known about this or that before, I would have got back on track much more quickly."

That means that we should do everything we can to give people the tools to get themselves back on their feet. If that means helping them to go through bankruptcy, then so be it.

If it means a less drastic approach to their finances, then we should provide experts that can sit down and give people one-to-one advice in budgeting and spending sensibly.

If it means ensuring that they do claim for all the diminishing benefits out there, then we should ensure they know what's available. And we should do what we can to get rid of the stigma about claiming benefits.

We should also do what we can to make people realise that there's no stigma in asking for help with finances. That's a product of a long-standing tendency to ignore money issues which was neatly demonstrated this week. Research by Moneysupermarket revealed that 2.68m of us have forgotten direct debits that take cash out of our account each month.

The fact is it's not so much that we've forgotten them, it's more the fact that we don't pay attention to our statements, either out of fear of reading some bad news or simply because we think we have better things to do with our time.

But ignoring finances is, frankly, a first step to cash confusion and, possibly debt disaster. The problems actually stem deeper than ignoring finances, of course. A key problem is that when many of us think about money it's only about how we can make more.

And that's simply wrong. Rather than thinking about how quickly or simply we can make money, we should be focusing on how we can make the most of what we actually have.

The fact that millions of people are paying £300 more a year for their home energy than they need to is a clear signal that we have a national problem because of money ignorance.

That doesn't mean we all need to become spendthrifts or money-saving bores. But it does mean we need a change in our attitude to money. In short, becoming more open about money is key so that the natural ups and downs of anybody's life don't become simply a series of debt disasters. That sounds simple but it's the problem that the Government-backed Money Advice Service has consistently failed to grasp.

The MAS reported figures this week that suggest it will fall massively short of its target to generate one million personal action plans for consumers by the end of March. But that's not the biggest disappointment about the MAS.

That's the fact that it doesn't help those that really need financial advice - people in debt who think there's no way out of their predicament. A clever little website won't help them even with the tens of millions of pounds that the government has poured into it.

Such people need face-to-face aid. They can get it at Citizens Advice but, frankly, the service hasn't anywhere near enough resources or expertise to help the millions who are struggling.

What's the answer? I don't know. But I'll be looking at different solutions around the country in coming weeks to give authorities food for thought. We simply can't afford to fail to help those if financial trouble. After all, the next person could be you.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

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: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

    £40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sales?Do you have a keen interes...

    Recruitment Genius: Loan Adviser - OTE £30,000

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

    £15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy