Families in misery over Christmas debt

Published Monday, 19 November 2012
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While Christmas may be a time of joy for many, thousands of families in Northern Ireland are in despair over how to pay the bills as well as buying gifts.

Families in misery over Christmas debt
Many families are struggling in debt, as Christmas approaches. (© UTV)

The countdown to the festive season is well underway - but with the recession biting hard, there is little to be cheerful about for some.

Charities are reporting a huge rise in the number of families who have working parents coming to them for help. One organisation, Christians Against Poverty, has revealed that half of the people who have approached them are suicidal.

Two years ago Rebecca McConkey - who has two children, seven-year-old old Ruby and two-year-old Ollie - found herself £10,000 in debt.

Despite working as a nurse she said she struggles every day to make ends meet.

"At the minute it's quite difficult," Rebecca told UTV.

It's very shameful and it's difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help, as much as I know the help is there but it's still quite degrading to get to the point where you have to ask for that - but sometimes you have to put your pride to one side

Rebecca McConkey

"Sometimes you get a bad week, like this week has been, where something goes wrong with the house and you find yourself with no oil, no heat and no spare cash to even get food.

"That's where it can be quite hard, especially when you know in the near future Christmas is coming and you've got no money to spend.

"It's come to that on a couple of occasions where you open the fridge and think 'okay, I need something for pack lunch' and you maybe have enough money to get the ham and the fruit for a pack lunch, but you don't have enough money to get the dinner tonight.

"That's what is coming down to this week."

Such is the level of debt in Northern Ireland, Christians Against Poverty has seen a 24% increase in the number of people they are trying to help, compared to last year.

Chris Cupples from the group said many of them are deeply distressed.

"Worryingly we did a survey earlier in the year and asked clients what it felt like to be in debt," Mr Cupples told UTV.

"We found that in Northern Ireland one in two had either attempted or considered suicide because of debt - so you can see it affects people's mental health and caused depression and illness, and there's always a way out of it but that pressure can build up and cause illness."

The pressure on parents to provide the same toys as their children's friends leads to growing concern that, come January, there will be credit card bills to pay.

Rebecca said she hopes she can give her children a memorable Christmas without the festive season coming to end with even more debt to clear.

"It's very scary when you reach the point when you can't pay anymore and you've got people calling from eight in the morning to eight at night demanding money and letters coming through your door every day," she continued.

"It can get quite depressing at times, obviously you want to do the best for your children.

Christians Against Poverty telephone: 0800 328 0006
St Vincent De Paul telephone: 028 90 351561
"But in the long run they won't remember in monetary terms what they got for Christmas when they were seven - but maybe they will remember what mummy did with them on Christmas Day when they were seven."
© UTV News
Comments Comments
Ady in Santa's shelter wrote (800 days ago):
@ Anne... I have been in regular ( Unbroken ,at high threshold tax ) employment for 30 years until last year . Would you prefer that your neighbours were kicked to the gutters for Christmas ? Count your blessings while you still have employment ! Happy Christmas Anne XO
Ady in No I phone 4 me wrote (800 days ago):
Norman d, Frosty , S.B ... You have nailed this one on the head ! If you have love to give , you have given the greatest gift .
Johnny Mac in Belfast wrote (800 days ago):
Christmas has become nothing more than a huge benefit for the Chinese economy. Let's get back to the more traditional festive celebrations of 50+ years ago or else hand Santa his redundancy notice.
Ann McGee in Belfast wrote (800 days ago):
Could anyone explain to me why many of my neighbours on benefits, with no one working in their house manage to have two foreign holidays each year, wear the latest designer gear and give their children the latest computers and mobile phones? Are these not the people who are supposed to be skint and living on the bread line. These people seem to want for nothing, when people who are in work are struggling, something not quite right here.
norman.d in bangor wrote (800 days ago):
the most important thing is to keep a roof over your head and food on the table christmas is only once a year and is all about money if you have not got the money just tell the children the truth that you cannot afford to buy them presents and they will understand instead of getting into debt you cannot pay
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