DEALING WITH DEBT DURING THE PANDEMIC

The financial consequences of COVID-19 are deeply concerning.

StepChange’s recent report “Scotland in the Red” makes for alarming reading.

In 2019, over one million Scots suffered financial distress, and the unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19 threatens already financially vulnerable households, with many more people now in debt.

A tsunami of job losses confront the UK economy with 61,000 in Scotland at risk.

At the end of October payment holidays, granted to one in seven Scottish households, will end, just as furlough support is being withdrawn. Of those 325,000 Scottish households, 60% are already in financial difficulties and will struggle to repay debt when these arrangements end.

An estimated quarter of Scottish households are still living on reduced incomes, through furlough, or a reduction in hours or salary, with a "heightened risk" of financial uncertainty.

Clearly more must be done to support people.

The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) recently published advice to firms on helping people with mortgages following payment breaks. Worryingly, the report says there is little or no guidance on what customers should do when such breaks end.

We must extend government support for workers in the hardest hit sectors, including those who fell through the safety net provisions. This echoes what I have repeatedly called for. Only last month, I secured and led a debate on this very issue, urging a full extension to the furlough scheme in order to protect household incomes and prevent debt.

While the Chancellor’s partial U-turn on furlough support for areas impacted by further restrictions is welcome, this will still leave many employees, businesses and self-employed people with little or no support at the worst possible time, affecting three million people across the UK.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government will introduce the Scottish Child Payment. Together with the Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods, this will provide over £5,200 of support for each eligible Scottish family by the time their first child turns six, around £4,000 more than elsewhere in the UK. Additional Discretionary Housing Payments for individual tenant and local housing needs brings to £19 million of support provision, in addition to fully mitigating the bedroom tax; and a £500 Self-Isolation Support Grant is available to help those facing financial hardship if they self-isolate and are on Universal Credit or legacy benefits.

Of course, many in North Ayrshire and beyond are self-isolating at home if they test positive for COVID-19 even if they don’t have symptoms. This means losing wages and surviving on statutory sick pay of £94 per week, which is amongst the lowest in Europe. If we’re asking people to do the right thing, this should not come with financial penalties. The UK Government must urgently raise sick pay levels, so that families can pay their bills whilst following very important public health advice to protect us all.

I continue to fight for constituents suffering financially as a result of the pandemic.

If you are concerned about debt, free advice is available at: stepchange.org or 0800 138 111 Mon-Fri from 8am-8pm and Saturdays 8am-4pm.

ENDS

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