I have been contacted by my constituents recently regarding the issue of personal debt, and in particular the idea of a breathing space scheme.
I share their concern about the impact of problem debt on families in our area. Unsecured household debt is a growing problem across the country. Earlier this year, the TUC released figures that showed that it reached record levels in 2016, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Total unsecured debt, which does not include mortgages, reached a record level of £349 billion during the third quarter of 2016. Unsecured debt per household increased to an average of nearly £13,000 at that time, which was an increase of more than £1,000 on the previous year and according to the TUC was the largest annual increase since 1997.
I support the idea of a breathing space scheme to give people a period without interest, charges or debt collection activity while they seek advice and try to improve their financial situation. Although such a scheme would not be a total solution to personal debt, it would be an excellent starting point.
In 2015 the Government accepted the need to conduct an in-depth review of this by the end of the year. Unfortunately, the review is still ongoing and since then, according to the debt charity StepChange, 1.3 million people have sought debt advice from the major debt advice charities.
While there is a need for the technical details of any scheme to be explored, I believe it is now time for the Government to set a timeline for producing a detailed proposal. I can assure constituents that I will continue to follow any developments closely.