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Polling shows public support for writing off pandemic debts as Universal Credit cut

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Polling shows public support for writing off pandemic debts as Universal Credit cut 

New polling commissioned by the anti-poverty group Jubilee Debt Campaign has shown public support for bold government action to write off household debts that have been built up during the pandemic. 43% of the general public support measures to cancel household debts, compared to just 20% who oppose them.

Debt cancellation could help households reset their finances and avoid a ‘long covid debt crisis’ holding back the economic recovery.  

The poll conducted by ICM Unlimited showed that people in debt could be hit hard by the cut to Universal Credit which came into force yesterday, with one in ten people in debt already unable to afford food during the pandemic.     

Pandemic debt is generating widespread anxiety, as 41% of people in debt reported feeling more worried about their debts than before the pandemic.  

Commenting on the polling results, Heidi Chow, Executive Director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: 

 “ ’Levelling up’ must include taking steps to write off the unavoidable household debts that have been built up during the pandemic – a move that has public support and gives everyone a chance to reset their finances and rebuild their lives. 

 “Indebted households are facing a perfect storm of planned cuts to Universal Credit, withdrawal of furlough, increased National Insurance contributions and soaring energy bills. It’s no wonder there is increased anxiety about having to take on even more debt to cope. These findings should raise alarm bells that mounting numbers of households face spiralling debt as covid support measures are withdrawn.” 

 Yesmin (not her real name) from Tower Hamlets in east London said: 

 “My son got into over £1500 worth of rent dent during coronavirus. He was already in low-paid work and when he was furloughed he wasn’t earning enough to cover the basics. His mental health also took a dive during periods of isolation which made managing his finances even more difficult.

“Now the debt has been passed to debt collectors who are chasing him and the council have told him that if he doesn’t pay soon he will be evicted. The stress that he has been under these past few months is having a severe impact on his physical and mental health. I believe a debt write off for my son would genuinely extend his life.” 

Lorraine Bow from London said her debt has forced her to cut back on essentials:

“I lost 90% of my income and had to take a loan. I’ve been given an extra month to try to fix my income. That’s simply not possible”. 

Maggie (not her real name) described the interest charges on her repayments as huge:  

“I used my credit card to pay for food and other things I normally use cash/debit card for. I have two credit cards that add up to an uncomfortable amount. I am not sure I will be able to repay them by the time I retire – when I will have a minimal pension.” 

For more information contact Joe Cox, Senior Policy Officer on +44 (0) 779 6884487 

Notes 

  1. ICM Unlimited interviewed 2,010 GB adults aged 18+ online from 17–20 September 2021. Data were weighted to be representative of GB adults by age, gender, region and socio-economic characteristics including SEG. ICM Unlimited is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. 

They were asked: To what extent do you support or oppose each of the following policies to help people manage their debts? 

  NET: Support  NET: Oppose  Strongly support  Somewhat support  Neither support nor oppose  Somewhat oppose  Strongly oppose  Don’t know 
Completely writing-off debts caused by the pandemic  36%  27%  15%  21%  24%  16%  12%  12% 
Partially writing-off debts caused by the pandemic  43%  20%  15%  28%  24%  13%  8%  12% 

The findings also shed further light on the painful reality of dealing with debts during the pandemic: 

  • 71% have already taken action to manage their debts  
  • 24% have or will have run down savings or plan to, run down savings with women in debt are more likely than their male counterparts to have, or plan to, run down savings (29% vs. 17%) 
  • 20% sold, or will sell, possessions to make ends meet  
  • 19% have taken on, or plan to take on, more work to increase income        
  • 10% haven’t been able, or won’t be able, to afford food      

 1. Jubilee Debt Campaign is a UK charity working to end poverty caused by unjust debt through education, research and campaigning: https://jubileedebt.org.uk/    

Jubilee Debt Campaign is calling on the government to take urgent action to prevent and impending ‘long covid debt crisis’ including:

Government grants directly to households to help clear rent and Council Tax arrears
Widening access to insolvency procedures so that people with no real assets can obtain a fresh start
Providing those who enter Debt Management Plans with a ‘fair debt write downs’  

For more information see https://jubileedebt.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/A-Fresh-Start-After-Covid19-web.pdf 

Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Privacy Policy is available at https://jubileedebt.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Privacy-policy.pdf 

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