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Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Deeper in debt

Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Editor, Politics Show South

Credit cards cut up
Plastic not so fantastic

Most of us will have to work for 70 days each year before we have paid off the interest on our personal debt. Last year it was more like 31 days. What is going wrong?

These figures, from the website, FinanceDaily, are a stark reminder of the ballooning level of debt in this country.

Since 1997, it has risen by 170%. The average interest on debt paid by each household per year is around 3,800. No wonder it takes over two months to pay off the interest, never mind start reducing the debt itself.

With this week's budget being delivered against a background of slumping house sales, tougher credit restrictions and fears of a looming recession, you have to wonder what will happen if the bubble bursts.

No financial nous

But then, some would argue that part of the problem is that, for most of us, finance is a foreign language. And we all know how good the British are at foreign languages.

Last month, Romsey MP, Sandra Gidley, introduced a private members bill to help tackle the debt mountain.

The idea is to require schools to provide classes on personal money management, and to get the government to set up financial advice centres in the mould of the Citizens Advice Bureaux.

The MP definitely wants to get them young, citing a survey which found that more than half of 14 to 18 year-olds are in some sort of debt by the age of 17, while more than a quarter of them saw credit cards and overdrafts as a way of increasing their spending power.

So for many young people today, adulthood starts in debt, courtesy of student loans or tempting deals on credit cards.

Cost of living

And to be honest, for most of us, making ends meet is becoming harder all the time.

Shoppers in supermarket
Only buying basics?

A survey out this week found that food staples had undergone rather scary price increases in the last year - butter up by more than 60%, a dozen free-range eggs up by 30%-40%.

You can thank the record oil prices for that, and the knock-on effect they are having on raw materials and manufacturing costs.

According to the MySupermarket website, which conducted the survey, all of that translates into a hefty price hike for consumers. A family of four spending an average of 100 on the weekly shop will, they reckon, be coughing up another 500 a year.

I suppose what with the budget, this is the week for statistics.

But in many ways it is the anecdotal evidence that is the most worrying.

How many of us are thinking we will only buy the absolute necessities for the moment?

Or have put off moving house - or even buying our first one - because of worries about the housing market or problems getting a mortgage?

Could this be a recession?

And if it is, what is to be done about all that debt?

Send us an email and join the debate.

And join Peter Henley live this Sunday 16 March from 12.00 GMT on BBC One.

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