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Thousands of Kent families struggle to make ends meet, according to research by Step Change and The Children’s Society

Thousands of children across the county may be going hungry as families struggle to make ends meet, new figures reveal today.

Research carried out by two charities has found more than 40,000 Kent families are facing "problem debt", with some unable to pay for food and clothes as their finances spiral out of control.

Up to a quarter of families in some Kent constituencies are facing problem debts, with 24% of Dover families fighting to pay the bills.

Thousands of families in Kent are struggling to make ends meet. Picture: Library image

And one in five families in many other constituencies including Canterbury, Chatham and Aylesford, Faversham and mid-Kent, Folkestone and Hythe, Sittingbourne and Sheppey, Thanet North and Thanet South, and Tunbridge Wells are also struggling.

The research was conducted by debt charity Step Change and The Children's Society.

It defines a family with "problem debt" as one which has fallen behind on the repayments of bills or credit commitments.

Sam Royston, head of policy and public affairs at The Children's Society, said: "Problem debt not only results in families cutting back on basic essentials like food and clothing, but also has an impact on a child's relationship with their family.

"There are more arguments and it even affects the relationship they have with their peers. Many of the children we spoke to said they felt embarrassed and some even got bullied because of their financial situation."

Children can face bullying at school if their family are suffering financial problems. Picture: Library image

"We are really worried about the emotional impact this is having on children. We know they are to stress and worry and we know it’s having a physical effect on them in terms of food and clothing."

Mr Royston said the research revealed many families in trouble were turning to payday loans to cover essentials such as food.

Nationally, 10% of families said they had taken out credit to pay for food for their children, 18% for clothing and 6% for heating.

"It is really very worrying when families have to turn to these very high interest loans which may in the long term make the problem worse," he said.

"One of the things we're calling for is a tightening up of advertising for payday loans so children don't grow up thinking it's normal to use payday loans to deal with problems."

Sam Royston, head of policy and public affairs at The Children’s Society

The charity is also calling for the government to introduce a breathing space scheme, to give struggling families a chance to regain control.

Mr Royston said: "We would like to see a breathing space scheme where interest payments and debt collection activity is suspended for a short period to allow people to get back on their feet and deal with their debt."

A report by the Trussel Trust last year revealed that Kent has seen an alarming surge in food bank use.

Fewer than 200 families were using the emergency supplies in 2011, but that had risen to more than with 7,000 in 2013.

Foodbanks offer some support if families cannot afford the weekly shop

Kent County Council has recently started a new emergency scheme offering free food, clothes or bedding for people in need who have nowhere else to turn.

It is aimed at people struggling to afford the basics but does not provide loans or grants.

The Step Change and Children's Society findings on problem debt are based on a survey of 2,000 families with children across the UK, with 344 in the south east.

These figures are broken down from regional to parliamentary constituency level on the basis of the most recently available individual insolvency statistics from the Office of National Statistics.

For free debt advice, people can contact Step Change on 0800 138 1111.

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