George Freeman welcomes Government backing of Breathing Space campaign to support those caught in the cycle of mental health and debt

24th April 2018

George Freeman welcomes the Government’s support for Financial Guidance and Claims Bill amendments backing the Breathing Space campaign which extends the six week debt respite scheme or “breathing space” to those in serious debt who are in hospital or under the care of a community crisis team.

Given the shortness of time, I will be brief. I thank the Minister and congratulate him on providing the House with what we were looking for this afternoon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), the Breathing Space campaign and the 80-odd colleagues on both sides of the House who have supported the proposal.

I thank the Minister and the Government for signalling what many people in the House and across the country hugely welcome: an appetite for cross-party working in pursuit of looking after the most vulnerable in society, in the spirit of the Prime Minister’s mission when she arrived in No. 10 two years ago. This will send a signal that we are serious.

Secondly, I echo the comments made by my neighbour, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), about the importance of understanding the vicious cycle of mental health and debt, and the way in which the two are so often implicated here. Recent figures from ComRes have shown that 56% of people in work say that payday struggles are their biggest anxiety. Often that anxiety can lead to further complications in terms of depression, which can lead to mental health problems, which in turn can undermine their ability to earn and work. That often leads into a cycle that makes both the indebtedness and the mental health suffering worse, as I know from my own experience. Sixty years ago, my father won the Grand National and 10 years later he suffered a life collapse from a combination of indebtedness, bankruptcy, mental health issues and head injuries, which in those days were not well treated. It is a sign of how far we have come as a society and as a politics that we now talk about these issues so much more openly and we offer so much more help.

I shall close with my third point, which relates to the importance of that taboo. So many people in our society still suffer in silence from debt, which knows no boundaries and is no respecter of class, political affiliation or geography. People who may appear at ease and prosperous—and often those who appear most that way—are struggling in misery behind the scenes and compounding that misery through their inability to feel confident enough to talk about it. That is why, along with the co-chair of the all-party group on inclusive growth, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), we are working on a small campaign this summer with StepChange, the Money Advice Service, the Financial Conduct Authority and Martin Lewis called “Share not Shame” to encourage people to talk more openly about their indebtedness issues and to seek the help that is available. Many people in this country are paying far too much for debt that could be provided at a minimum—at a fraction of the price—and their debts could be rescheduled in a way that takes the pressure and shame from them. I welcome warmly the undertaking the Minister has given today and congratulate those Members who have led the campaign on this, which will signal across the country that this Parliament is taking their interests very seriously.