‘FRIGHTENING’ debt figures show that £3.4 million is owed by a few hundred people across ‘rich and poor’ areas of Barrow.

Citizens Advice Barrow has revealed in the last year 529 people sought help for over 2,000 separate debts – breaking the £3 million mark.

Residents in Hindpool, Ormsgill and Risedale accounted for over £1 million but those living in Hawcoat and Parkside also sought help from the experts.

But the figures do not tell the whole story because many people never reach out to CAB for help, CAB manager Christine McKinley has told councillors.

The statistics were revealed to Barrow Local Committee which funds a caseworker.

Mrs McKinley said: “Priority debt is where you can lose your home, liberty or have your essential utilities cut off. We are not talking profligate spending on consumer goods. We are talking not being able to pay the rent, council tax, the heat, lighting or food.”

Cllr Bill McEwan, a Labour councillor for Ormsgill, said the figures were ‘frightening’ and debt pushed people to the brink of taking their own lives.

“When the house is going to be taken off them or their energy going to be cut off or they don’t know where their next plate of food is going to be put on the table – this is the stuff that drives people to the edge,” he said.

Cllr Frank Cassidy said ‘two Barrow’s’ existed – those looking forward to Christmas and those dreading it.

“It’s a town within a town, where instead of finding posh cars and optimism, you will discover hardship,” said Cllr Cassidy. 

Cllr Anne Burns said only a change of Government could help.

“There’s no doubt in my mind this has got worse since Universal Credit. It has been an awful policy for those on the bottom rung of the ladder,” said Cllr Burns, a Labour member for Hindpool.

Cllr Mel Worth, the Labour member for Walney North, said it was ‘disgraceful and distasteful’ that nearly half of CAB clients were employed. “This is not a surprise with zero-hours contracts and minimum wage – it’s an absolute disgrace in the 5th richest country in the world.”

The only faint ‘hope’ on the horizon was the Government providing a ’60 day window’ from creditors – if those in debt sought help, said Ms McKinley.

Nearly half were employed with 65 per cent earning less than £15,000 and others on zero-hours contracts or minimum wage, councillors heard.

Residents on Walney owed £627,524, Dalton residents owed £492,000 and those on Barrow Island accounted for £164,000.

Debts ranged from overdue rent, mortgage arrears, council tax, utility bills and court fines. But people also got into trouble falling behind on secured loans and overdrafts and were generally leaving it too late to seek help, she said.