Black Friday: Financial Products — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:31 pm on 23rd November 2021.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 2:31 pm, 23rd November 2021

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If both Scrooge and the Grinch are misunderstood, I very much believe that buy now, pay later companies could become the true villains of Christmas rather than them —[Interruption.] It might be tenuous, Minister, but it is a link.

I recognise that during the pandemic, debt has become a lot worse for many people; when I say a lot worse, I mean it is less likely that they will ever be able to get out of it. Many people live with debt, and while sometimes it is a debt they can manage, an awful lot of people are drowning, not waving.

Data from StepChange is clear that as a consequence of the coronavirus lockdown period, 2.8 million people have fallen into arrears: most frequently on utilities, as my hon. Friend Catherine West said. That is on fuel and water, on keeping the basics of the house going. Some 820,000 people have fallen into arrears on their council tax—a debt to the public sector—and about 500,000 people have fallen into arrears on their rent. We have seen a massive explosion in the number of people who will never own their own homes and will always be in the rental sector, particularly in areas where the cost of living is particularly high. My constituency has the 10th highest level of child poverty in the country, and that is because of the cost of living and the cost of renting in my local community. We know that those people, who have struggled to stay in our area, were particularly hit by the restrictions on their working practices in lockdown and have now found that they simply cannot afford the roof over their heads.

Little wonder that nearly 4 million of us have borrowed to make ends meet during the lockdown period, with 1.7 million often using a credit card, 1.6 million using an overdraft and nearly 1 million using a high-cost credit product. That borrowing is not, perhaps, the stereotype of borrowing in order to buy goods—going back to my original point about people wanting to treat a family member. Instead, people have borrowed during lockdown to keep things going: to keep food on the table; to keep their car working, so that when they can go to work, they can get to work; and, perhaps, to pay for heating, especially in the cold weather.

It is striking that there has been a 267% increase in the number of consumer county court judgments issued. Those numbers were depressed by the covid forbearance measures. I recognise that schemes such as the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme helped to mitigate the impact of that. My point when talking about consumer debt and consumer credit is that we are coming out of a period when many people were vulnerable anyway because of long-standing household debts, and that those debts have been made a lot worse. Add into the mix the fact that we expect those people to spend money and help to get our economy back on track. It does not take a rocket scientist to recognise that at the heart of that mix is something very potent that could lead to real poverty and destitution for many people.