YEP Leeds survey: Foodbanks a consideration as readers reveal debt worries

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shocking figures reveal nearly half of Yorkshire Evening Post readers have considered using a foodbank.

Hundreds of readers have been forced to turn to a payday lender in the last year just to make ends meet.

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These are just some of the findings of the YEP’s Voice of Leeds 2014 Survey which helps to create a snapshot of life in the city.

Nearly 60 per cent who replied said they have not had a pay rise in the last year and over half of them said they have to be careful with their cash.

Almost 20 per cent of readers said they are either desperate or struggling with the cost of everyday living.

Leeds-based debt charity Step Change has seen the number of people turning to them for help increase by more than a third.

Over 1,570 clients have been seen by the charity in the first six months of this year compared to 1,154 in the same period last year.

The average unsecured debt was almost £10,000 and those who were offered advice were just ONE POUND short of covering their essential bills each month.

Council chiefs have warned that poverty is one of the most important challenges facing the city.

A spokeswoman from Step Change said: “The high level of people in Leeds who say they are struggling financially is not surprising, and is indicative of what we as a charity are seeing across the country.

“Owing to a prolonged period of low wages and increasing costs of living, many families are only just making ends meet.

“When life events hit, such as redundancy, illness or a reduction in working hours, this can push people over the financial edge and they may turn to credit to try and bridge the gap.

“But this can lead to a spiral of debt that is very difficult to escape.

“We would urge people to seek free advice as soon as they realise they are starting to struggle.”

Last week the YEP revealed that Leeds City Council leaders are calling on the courts to be tougher on illegal lenders and loan sharks.

The cross-party call comes after a council watchdog panel heard that in one recent case, two convicted loan sharks had walked from court with suspended sentences.

The committee was told the judge’s apparent leniency in the case was “shocking”, when the people involved are responsible for inflicting so much misery.

The authority is launching a pre-Christmas war on payday lenders and loan sharks.

The city has recently been leading a major drive to stamp out the predatory lenders targeting some of the city’s most vulnerable and financially pressured families.

Since the campaign was launched last year, membership of the city’s credit unions has shot up to an unprecedented 27,000 people.

Lending through the credit unions was up by 25 per cent last Christmas, and it is estimated borrowers saved £650,000 by choosing this route.

Norah Gibson from West Leeds Debt Forum said communities are working hard to tackle lending and debt head on.

She said the award-winning Money Buddies Scheme, which started in Ebor Gardens, looks set to be rolled out across the city.

The team of financial friends aims to help people stay out of debt and manage their finances.

Norah said: “I don’t think the results of the YEP’s survey are surprising at all.

“People are getting more into debt to meet every day household expenses.

“High-interest loans are a major problem.

“One of our clients borrowed £400 and that just kept rolling over to nearly £3,000.

“We are moving towards Christmas and now we are actively starting to plan a campaign to try and stop people getting into that Christmas debt.”

CREDIT UNION

Leeds City Credit Union has taken the pay day loan battle to the streets as it opens the first ever credit union loan shop in Leeds.

The loan shop, on Roundhay Road, is known as “Your Loan Shop” and offers people the chance to speak to someone face to face about easy, affordable loans.

It continues the work within the city around raising awareness of local alternatives to pay day loans, which has included the ‘Take a Stand’ Campaign last year and the launch of the Money Information Centre website (www.leedsmic.org.uk) earlier this March, signposting people to finance and debt advice in Leeds.

For August and September the shop had 364 visits in person and 118 web enquiries, resulting in 103 loans being issued to the value of £87,718.

The interest saving achieved by those loans not being placed with a high cost lender is estimated at £60,876 (assuming the high cost lender rate is 272 per cent).

Leeds City Credit Union is a financial cooperative set up to give members access to affordable loans at a fair rate of interest and competitive savings plans with 33,000 members.

THE COUNCILLOR

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Poverty is the most important challenge our city is facing. Its effects can be devastating and far-reaching which is why we are taking dramatic steps to tackle it.

“Unfortunately the results of this survey are not a surprise. We are well aware that food banks and payday loans are very much a reality for some of our citizens.

“As a city, we are working hard to mitigate the effects of poverty and have put some real actions in place.

“We are joining forces with partners from voluntary and advice organisations to make sure that the support we provide together can lift people out of poverty.

“Over the past year, we have set up a new directorate which is leading on the council’s work tackling poverty and deprivation by making our services more accessible to those in need of advice and support.

“We have been targeting intensive support to those people most at risk, helping them to manage their finances better, and access employment opportunities.

“We have also started a campaign to tackle high-cost lending and promoting sensible lower-cost borrowing options such as Leeds City Credit Union.

“We have also established an online debt advice portal – the Money Information Centre, and have been working closely with local food bank providers to help them become sustainable.

“Eradicating poverty isn’t an easy task but we must put our citizens first, to give the whole city a chance of a successful future.”

THE FOODBANK

At her lowest point mum-of-two Lily had just 65 PENCE in her bank account.

Her daughter and son both needed meals putting on the table but the family had found themselves trapped in a cycle of despair.

She even considered taking out a payday loan just to help make ends meet.

Her husband was made redundant from his job but they were soon forced to pay for initial costs when he found employment with a new business.

The financial toll on the family left her turning to support from Leeds North Foodbank.

Yorkshire Evening Post readers helped to feed more than 1,260 desperate people, like Lily, across Leeds this summer – almost half of them children.

Individuals, businesses and other organisations in the city have played a part in collecting a staggering 15 tons of food – the equivalent of FIVE double decker buses full.

And foodbanks in north, south and west Leeds have handed out a staggering 11.7 tons of emergency food parcels – almost THREE double deckers – to needy residents whose cupboards were bare.

We launched our Feed a Family campaign at the beginning of the school holidays, when we revealed that parents would be forced to skip meals this summer to prevent their children from going hungry.

None of the city’s four Trussell Trust foodbanks had been up and running during the summer before.

They feared demand would soar and their shelves would be cleared as families struggled to put food on their tables during the six-week break from school.

Their project managers hailed the YEP campaign as a great success, praising kind-hearted readers for helping to keep hunger at bay in hundreds of struggling households.

HELP PANEL

To find out more about affordable loans visit www.yourloanshop.com

For finance and debt advice, visit the Money Information Centre website at www.leedsmic.org.uk.

For more information about Step Change Debt Charity visit www.stepchange.org or contact 0800 138 1111.

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