Jane Clack, Money Advisor at free debt advice provider PayPlan, has highlighted a lack of focus on those struggling with debt following the recent political party conferences.
Clack believes neither Labour nor the Conservatives delivered strong enough policies that would offer additional support to the clients she works with on a daily basis.
“We always keep a very close eye on announcements made during party conferences. Reacting to the Chancellor’s speech, CBI Director General Carolyn Fairbairn commented that it is ‘time for honesty about the challenges we face’. Her words sum up my reaction to both conferences. There was a nod towards the reality of personal debt and measures were announced for future prevention, but the situation of those struggling now was largely brushed under the carpet.”
“The fact is that, at PayPlan, we’re seeing more people come to us for advice and support. The warning signs are there and, in my opinion, now is the time for more positive action.”
Clack has given her thoughts on each of the two major parties conferences:
Labour Party Conference: “I actually got to experience this conference first-hand and it was great to be able to speak to both members and MPs directly. There were some positive conversations about the current situation regarding universal credit and how claimants that are already struggling financially are running up further debt due to lengthy benefit payment waiting times. With one in four new universal credit claimants waiting more than 42 days for their first payment and falling into rent arrears as a result, I would agree with the call for the planned roll-out of the benefit to be paused whilst the obvious impact it’s having is assessed.
“We also heard from the Shadow Chancellor with a proposal to cap the amount that money lenders can charge in interest. This is undoubtedly a positive start but I would argue that there’s scope to push this even further by looking at different ways to reduce payments, as well as an ‘opt-in’ only policy to receive an increased credit limit.
“One of the headline grabbers from the conference was the renewed pledge to scrap university tuition fees and cancel existing student debt. Whilst some will inevitably see this as positive, others will raise questions regarding how it will be paid for. The reality is this would have little impact on any of our clients as student debt is currently excluded from debt solutions.
Conservative Party Conference: “One of the biggest positives for me was the proposed review of how the NHS and other public services support those with mental health problems. We know that debt and mental health issues are often interlinked and PayPlan’s own research found that depression is the most common condition among our vulnerable clients (60 per cent), followed by anxiety (16 per cent) and bipolar disorder (six per cent).
“There have been some positive steps in the past few years regarding opening up the conversation around mental health and reducing some of the stigma. In fact, we’ve seen a definite shift in the openness of clients and their willingness to talk about their issues when they get in touch with 91% voluntarily disclosing a vulnerability. This review could be an important next step as part of that journey.
“Student loans and tuition fees also took centre stage. On the eve of the conference, Theresa May confirmed that fees would be frozen at £9,250 for next autumn and that the fee repayment threshold would increase from £21,000 to £25,000. Again, whilst this will be seen as a positive move for younger people, it does little to help those already in debt.
“In a similar vein, the Prime Minister also announced a price cap on ‘rip-off’ energy bills. Little more detail was provided but we know first-hand that energy bills are a major pressure point for many of our clients. Again, this is positive going forwards but what about those who have been suffering for years, stranded in arrears?”
In summary, Clack said: “It’s inevitable that all major political parties will look to the future in keynote speeches, however, the reality of the present shouldn’t be ignored. It is those experiencing serious debt who are suffering and in need of additional support and I would ask all parties not to forget these people and face up to the reality of the burgeoning indebtedness of the consumer and voter!”