MORE than 26,000 children in south Essex are living in families trapped by more than £27million of debt, according to a report.

Fgures released by the Children’s Society show 26,338 youngsters from 15,116 families in Basildon, Castle Point, Southend and Thurrock in households in thousands of pounds of debt.

Basildon South and Thurrock East constituency is worst-affected, with 21 per cent of families considered to be in “problem debt”, compared to just 12 per cent in Rayleigh and Wickford.

Figures for the East of England show an average 18 per cent of families trapped by £1,862 of unpaid bills.

The Children’s Society and StepChange Debt Charity are calling for a “breathing space” to protect families from extra charges, a review of whether the protection of children from these situations is working and earlier, widespread access to support.

Richard Leadley, of Christians Against Poverty, which is based in Shoebury and runs sessions in Basildon, said: “Some of the clients I see through Southend Christians Against Poverty Debt Advice Centre and through the Share foodbank, in Shoebury, are really struggling.

“There is a lack of basic budgeting knowledge which, coupled with irregular benefit payments, makes it difficult for people to manage their money.

“If people don't know how they are spending their money, it is easy to run out. When circumstances change, or emergencies arise, there is no fall-back position.

“So many people do not have an extended family who are able to support them either emotionally or financially, so often the people they turn to are the doorstep lender and pay day loan companies, all of whom charge exceptionally high rates of interest which worsens the situation.”

Christians Against Poverty offers free money management advice and courses, including one aimed specifically at teenagers.

Elizabeth Stoner, chaplaincy leader at the Share foodbank said people from all walks of society were trapped by debt.

She gave examples of middle class families where the husband had been out of work for a year, to families who had turned to payday loan companies. She said: “I am not surprised by the figures.

I think people can survive for so long on a very small income, but then the children need school uniform, or the washer breaks, or both, and they need money for these things.”

She said many people were embarrassed to use the charity, but found themselves in a “catch 22” situation.

Together with CAP they try to find the root cause of the debt to stop the problem repeating.

To find out more about CAP services call 0800 328006 or visit course/introduction