In recent findings by YouGov for StepChange Debt Charity, an alarming trend has surfaced: one in four UK adults, or approximately 13 million people, have resorted to borrowing money to cover essential costs such as household bills and groceries. This emerging dependency on credit to manage daily living expenses is revealing the financial distress many individuals are facing across the nation.

Deepening Debt Crisis

The analysis provided by StepChange underscores the severity of the situation, with 72% of those who have used credit for essentials struggling to keep up with household bills and credit commitments. This troubling scenario affects about nine million people, illustrating a widespread challenge in managing basic financial obligations without accruing debt.

Vicious Cycle of Credit Reliance

The reliance on credit extends beyond just covering daily needs; 20% of UK adults have also used credit to meet other credit repayments within the last three months—a strong indicator of a potential debt spiral. Furthermore, nearly half of the individuals struggling with credit repayments have been rationing utilities like heating, electricity, or water to afford their dues. Financial strain has driven almost one-third of these individuals to seek help from family and friends.

Risky Lending Practices

Adding to the complexity, 45% of those finding it hard to manage credit repayments have been offered additional credit by lenders, exacerbating their financial difficulties. This practice of extending more credit to already struggling borrowers can lead to even more entrenched financial problems, making recovery from debt almost insurmountable.

Health and Well-being at Stake

The strain of continuous financial pressure isn’t just a matter of economics; it profoundly affects individuals’ health. According to the survey, 31% of those struggling with debt report a negative impact on their physical health, and nearly half cite deteriorating mental health due to their financial predicament.

Call for Regulatory Action

In light of these concerning trends, StepChange is urging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), government, and lenders to prioritize preventing problem debt, especially among those grappling with high living costs. Peter Tutton, Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs at StepChange, emphasized the need for regulatory action. “The new Consumer Duty has sent a welcome message that the FCA expects higher standards from consumer lenders, but the reality is that as many people as ever are struggling with harmful financial difficulty,” Tutton stated.

He further advocates for the FCA to focus on preventing financial hardship as a core aspect of the Consumer Duty, reevaluating lending rules that currently allow financially vulnerable individuals to slide into severe debt. Additionally, Tutton calls for governmental regulation of interest-free ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ schemes and the development of safer borrowing alternatives, like a national No-interest Loan Scheme, to mitigate the necessity of desperate borrowing.


The findings from StepChange highlight a critical need for comprehensive strategies to address and alleviate financial hardship in the UK. As the cost of living continues to challenge many, the collective effort from regulators, lenders, and the government will be crucial in ensuring that financial support systems are both effective and equitable, preventing the cycle of debt before it starts.

Categorized in:

Knowledge, News,

Last Update: May 20, 2024