More than half of parents with children aged 10 and under fell into debt to pay essential bills

11th Dec 2023


of people with young children (10 years old and under) had taken on or increased unsecured debt to pay for essential bills.


of those with young children that have taken on unsecured debt are very worried about being able to repay.


parents of young children have accumulated debts of more than £4000 in the past 12 months paying for essential living costs.

The Mental Health Foundation is raising the alarm about the number of people who have gone into debt to pay essential living costs in the last year, given the negative effects of unsecured debt on mental health. Data published today reveals that more than half of parents of young children aged 10 and under (58%) had paid essential bills using unsecured debt.  For around one in eight parents (12%) the debts have amounted to more than £4000. 

The survey of 5000 UK adults was carried out on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation by Opinium between 1 and 13 November 2023. It also found that among the parents of children aged 10 and under who have accumulated debt paying essential living costs in the last 12 months, almost one third (32%) are very worried about their ability to repay.

 Debt is a stressor which can lead to mental health problems including anxiety and depression.  The poll also revealed 27% of parents of children aged 10 and under felt anxious in the previous month due to their financial situation while 30% felt stressed and 11% felt hopeless.  The Mental Health Foundation is calling for increased government support for people experiencing financial strain and poverty.

Dr Shari McDaid leads the Mental Health Foundation’s work on poverty.  She said

“It’s unacceptable that so many people, especially parents of young children, are having to go into debt to pay essential living costs.  Financial strain, poverty, and debt are drivers of poor mental health and, according to the polling data released today, more than half of young families across the UK are at risk.

“We need our governments to be more proactive in helping people to reduce their levels of short-term debt. Governments must provide adequate income supports so that people do not end up falling into debt to pay for essentials. 

“For people who are struggling with money worries, I’d urge them to seek help from organisations that can provide money advice such as StepChange or Citizens Advice.  It can also help to share worries with trusted family and friends.”

Worries about repaying debts can make us feel anxious, stressed, and isolated, and these negative feelings can make it harder to cope with everything. The charity is urging anyone concerned about debt or personal finances to seek help even though the first steps can be difficult.

Many people may feel ashamed of what they’re going through, but the truth is, we’re never alone with money problems.  Research shows that they’re one of the most common and serious sources of stress for many people. Even if it’s not yet possible to change our financial situation, sharing our fears with someone we trust will help us feel less alone and may help us to see new ways forward.  For practical help, seek out professional support from organisations such as Citizens Advice, StepChange or Money and Mental Health.

Debt charity StepChange shares the Mental Health Foundation’s concerns.  

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity, said:

“Households have grappled with years of increasingly acute cost of living pressures, which have eaten away at people’s financial resilience, making it more difficult to make ends meet. Families with young children face the added burden of high childcare costs or may have a reduced income due to caring responsibilities. It’s always concerning to see people turning to credit to cover essentials, as while it might provide short-term respite, it will likely only worsen someone’s debt problems in the long run if their income does not change.

“The impact of problem debt on mental health and wellbeing can’t be overstated. Two in five clients seeking help from StepChange report a mental health condition, and our clients often report that mental health problems have made coping with their situation and seeking help more difficult.

“It’s important people know help is available when they feel unable to deal with debt problems. Getting help from a debt advice charity is often a huge weight lifted for people who feel trapped and helps alleviate mental health problems alongside specialist support. If you’re struggling with debt and it’s affecting your mental health, you’re not alone. Free and confidential advice is available from charities like StepChange.” 

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