Thousands of Scots households not seeking debt help because of ‘stigma and shame’
Thousands of Scots are not seeking help with debt and money worries due to a “misplaced sense of shame”, the country’s national advice service has warned.
Advice Direct Scotland said the wholesale rise in living costs over the past year – driven by inflation and energy price hikes – has affected “virtually every household in Scotland”.
In a consultation response to Holyrood’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee, which is holding an inquiry into low income and debt, the charity said a “tidal wave of households” have been forced to seek help with debts for the first time.
It said this was largely due to the cost-of-living crisis, as well as income shocks arising from the Covid pandemic. However, the charity said people from households that have never had to seek support before “are now appearing more reluctant to accept help” due to the “stigma and shame tied to debt”.
The submission said: “We recognise that thousands of households across Scotland are not seeking support because of a misplaced sense of shame.
“We understand from engaging with frontline support hubs (foodbanks and community centres) that there is a pervasive sense of shame attached to debt.
“Many perceive seeking debt advice as a personal failure, potentially affecting their reputation, and standing in society.”
Advice Direct Scotland stressed that there is no shame in people with problem debt or money issues seeking help to try and improve their situation, adding: “We offer free and, if the customer requests, anonymous guidance on doing this.”
It provides a range of free and impartial services including consumer advice at consumeradvice.scot, and support on issues including debt, the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy prices at moneyadvice.scot and energyadvice.scot.
Advice Direct Scotland’s consultation response also addressed issues such as digital exclusion, the impact debt can have on people’s mental health, and the main types of debt faced by those on low incomes which include council tax and rent arrears.
On digital exclusion, it highlighted a significant shift by public sector organisations to offer services online during the pandemic and said it would strongly advise in favour of improving government assistance in digital and broadband access for those on lower incomes.
The charity has backed calls made by Ofcom encouraging all broadband firms to help low income households by offering discounted packages known as “social tariffs” which can rapidly reduce bills and improve access.
Conor Forbes, Advice Direct Scotland’s head of business development and policy, who will give evidence to the Holyrood inquiry next week, said: “We know that the current cost-of-living crisis, driven by rising energy bills and inflation, is having a detrimental impact on people’s household finances, pushing many people into debt.
“However, the stigma and shame tied to debt are major obstacles in obtaining a resolution and we know that thousands of people are reluctant to seek help or advice because of this.
“We want to stress that there is no shame in someone wanting to improve their situation, and nobody should have to struggle with money problems alone.
“Our expert advisers can offer support and advice on issues including debt, the cost-of-living crisis and energy price increases through our moneyadvice.scot and energyadvice.scot services.”