Volunteers are trying to help Stoke-on-Trent lose its unwanted time as the country’s “Debt Capital.”
For two years running, Stoke has had the highest levels of insolvency across England and Wales, with 1029 adults across the city facing financial difficulties.
The city has now been named the ‘Debt Capital’, but there are several volunteers across the city helping people to claw their way out of debt.
With the average full-time salary in the city being £5,000 less than the national average, people simply are not earning enough to stay afloat.
Mary-Anne Rapson- a money matters advisor from Saltbox – and other volunteers at Fenton food bank work endlessly to provide advice for anyone who turns up at the door.
She said: “We hold drop-ins where people come in because in for support with benefit and debt advice.
“Sometimes it’s just a one-off phone call, other times they may need us to go through the whole debt advice processes.”
There are a number of individuals who ignore their issues with debt by not opening letters, ignoring phone calls and the feared bailiff knock on the door.
Mary-Anne says this is not something she recommends as leaving it to ‘snow ball’ has a proven link to mental health with her long list of clients.
She added: “We often get people who just don’t open their letters, it’s just too much to cope with, they don’t answer the phone calls, they turn their phones off and that kind of thing.
“We always recommend that if people are starting to struggle, that they seek advice straight away because then that way it won’t affect their mental health.”
Universal Credit and the changes made to the system have been recognised as a major factors contributing to debt.
‘Molly’ knows the feeling and explains to me just how money troubles has affected her.
She said: “Basically I am living in a Gingerbread- accommodation for homeless families and single pregnant women- through domestic violence, I moved on to Universal Credit and its just gone downhill.
“I’m just trying to get straight to be fair and obviously I have got four children and it’s just hard.
“I don’t see it getting any better, not really, no. I’ve come here five times this year, and to be fair I don’t like it because I’ve never asked anybody for anything.”
Voucher systems are available at all 16 food banks across the city where emergency food is given to tide people over.
Glenn Parkes- centre lead at Fenton food bank- acknowledges the struggle for people on universal credit and explains how people can get help.
She said: “There are various ways of getting food bank vouchers.
“One of the best ways is to contact the city council and they will issue you a number and then its all entered on a system and the food gets issued that way.”
Stoke has been named the insolvency city but how hopeful are debt advisors like Mary-Anne for the future, who notes that investment across Stoke is essential.
She added: “I am hopeful, yeah I do think that things will change. There are organisations like the Financial Inclusion Group who are working really hard to solve some of the underlying problems.
“Hopefully if we get investments in the city and more jobs and start working through educating our people there will be change.”
There are several trained professionals like Mary-Anne Rapson, working hard to make life better for many local people ‘re-sparking ‘that glimmer of hope on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent.
If you are facing financial difficulties reach out to them on Saltbox.