Financial struggles with bills and debts 'worsen'

Running out of money? Simon Gompertz looks at how different areas compare

More than half of UK adults are struggling to keep up with bills and debt repayments, a major survey of people's finances has suggested.

Some 52% of the 5,000 people questioned said they were struggling, compared with just 35% in a similar study in 2006, the Money Advice Service said.

In Northern Ireland, some 66% said they were struggling.

The effects of the financial crisis meant fewer were planning ahead and putting money aside for emergencies.

Cheap as chips?

The Money Advice Service, a government-backed website, asked people a series of questions about their finances. It also followed 72 families over the course of a year to see how they managed their money.

Les Manning Les Manning says people start to spend in coins, not notes, in the days before payday

To assess the financial state of the nation, it is comparing the findings with a similar piece of work conducted in 2006 by the City regulator which, at the time, was called the Financial Services Authority.

The banking crisis and the subsequent credit crunch have changed the way people view and cope with their financial situation, the survey findings suggest.

Individuals were worried about their ability to make their money last until the next payday, the advice service said.

The English region where people are struggling to cope the most is the North West, the research suggests, with 60% of those surveyed finding it tough.

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This was in evidence in Crewe, according to the owner of a local fish and chip shop who has started selling "more affordable" fish strips and potato fritters.

Les Manning, who owns Les's Fish Bar and has been in business in the region for 35 years, said squeezed budgets were obvious just before payday.

"At certain times of the month, trade moves from the restaurant to the takeaway," the 56-year-old said.

"The money in your till goes from £10 and £20 notes down to £1 coins and £5 notes. When they get towards the end of the month, there is nothing left to spend, really."

'Tough times'

Stretched finances meant many people were not putting money aside, such as saving for a pension.

In addition, there was no money ready for dealing with emergencies, even though a third of those asked said they had suffered a financial shock in the last three years.

Some 21% said they had experienced a large drop in income, while 42% said they would have to think about how to cover an unexpected bill of £300.

The 2006 study raised concerns about how much people understood money matters. The financial crunch means that 84% of those asked said that they kept track of their money. Most who made a budget did stick to it.

Yet the latest survey found that 16% of those questioned were unable to identify the balance on a bank statement.

Broken piggy bank Individuals financial skills may have improved, but many still struggle

"In theory, money management is easy - spend less than you earn and consider your future. But the difficulty comes when applying this in the real world," said Caroline Rookes, chief executive of the Money Advice Service.

"This report reveals just how difficult it is at the moment for so many of us, but also highlights ways we are adapting to manage financially."

A spokesman for the UK Treasury said: "We recognise that times are still tough for families, but Britain is holding its nerve, we are sticking to our plan and the British economy is on the mend.

"The government has taken continued action to help households with the cost of living, including cutting tax for 25 million people by raising the personal allowance and freezing fuel duty.

"This report shows that, despite these tough times, managing your everyday finances effectively can really help to make things a little easier, which is why the government continues to support efforts to boost people's financial skills."

Labour's Catherine McKinnell, a shadow Treasury minister, said: "These figures expose the cost of living crisis Britain's families are actually facing. This government's failed economic policies mean prices are rising much faster than wages."

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