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Photo by Emil Kalibradov on Unsplash

This week marked a year since our country first locked down as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, and in that time the ramifications on our economy and personal finances have been devastating for many.

It’s true that some have benefitted financially from the crisis. By staying at home, for instance, commuting costs have stopped and household spending has reduced. Some people have even been able to put more money aside, and in many cases debts have been paid down.

But for so many others, their personal finances have been dealt a significant blow by this pandemic and they have been forced into unsustainable debt.

It’s not a new story: even before the pandemic struck household debt in the UK was worse than at any time on record, credit card debt was growing at the fastest rate since the financial crash, and as things like house prices rose faster than wages households were taking out bigger mortgages.

But where this lack of financial resilience made people more vulnerable to economic shocks, the Covid-19 crisis has exploited that and made the most of these weak foundations to push people further into precarious debt.

Even in the first few months of the pandemic some 18 million people took on some form of debt just to get by between March and September.

And whilst many people’s finances have been hit, it’s some of the most vulnerable in our society who have been disproportionately affected.

Lower income families and those from minority ethnic groups, for instance, have experienced the biggest transition to unsustainable debt. By July 60 percent of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits had been forced to borrow money since the start of the crisis, and nearly one in every three black people were likely to have fallen behind on bills.

It’s clear that in such a difficult economic landscape we must do more to address the over-indebtedness that too many people find themselves in, both as an immediate response to this pandemic and as a way of hardwiring financial resilience to safeguard against future shocks.

With so many people forced to stay at home, the popularity of online transactions and online shopping has grown during the pandemic. Short term, unsustainable options that many people turn to like ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes should be addressed, and Co-operative MPs like Stella Creasy have done great work in shining a light on the risks associated with them and ensuring they are subject to greater regulation.

We should look at tackling the stigma associated with debt, assess the need for tighter regulations on the bailiff industry, and the Government should properly measure and report on debt levels to fully understand the scale of the crisis – not least on debt to public bodies.

And we need to build greater financial inclusivity so that people have access to banking services and routes to more affordable credit. Strengthening the credit union sector and increasing membership of credit unions in our communities is one way to do this, where people will be able to rely on the support of institutions that exist to provide a service for their members rather than exploitatively creative wealth off of their situation for external shareholders.

As the fallout from this economic crisis and the impact on personal debt becomes even clearer over the coming months, so too will the obvious need for us to do more to address this debt problem.

These issues won’t create an immediate fix to a personal debt crisis which has existed for too long, but will go some way to addressing the problems people are facing now, and by increasing financial inclusion help build vital financial resilience in communities and households to prevent their vulnerability to future shocks.