EXTREME debts can cause significant stress and difficulty for individuals and their families - and for some people the problem is only getting worse.

For many the bills are accumulated through vital services such as water, gas or electricity but once the issues begin they can lead to a spiral of other worries.

To try to understand the problems facing Bolton residents and people across the North West, the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, visited The Bridge Church, in Bury New Road, to speak to people being helped by Christian’s Against Poverty (CAP).

Mr Haldane’s job commonly involves dealing with huge economic issues affected by major changes in the economy.

However, the impact of his decisions is seen by everyday people in towns like Bolton so The Bank of England has sent its staff out to try and understand people’s concerns.

“People’s decisions on how much to spend, save and borrow that is the economy,” Mr Haldane explained.

“So why not have these conversations with people about how the economy is working directly for them?”

One woman who has been through her own battle with debts is Julie Unsworth. The 55-year-old, from Worsley, used to work as a nurse but when her husband was made redundant from his job as a scaffolder the family were saddled with insurmountable bills.

“We had the usual issues – a car loan, bank loan and house improvement loan, all in all, it was £18,000 with everything,” she said.

“We were managing OK we didn’t have a lot of income left over once we’d paid everything, but we were fine, we had a nice house and an OK car, everything was fine and then my husband got made redundant.

“We had that amount of debt as well as a mortgage and I had a seven-year-old boy at the time, so things started to get really tricky.

“For about a year, every morning my husband would have this book where he would say right don’t take any money out today because this is going out today and we can’t do that because we’re doing this. He would be writing down where he was up to all the time and it was just awful.”

Despite searching for a new job, Mrs Unsworth’s husband could only find work on a zero-hour contract in a role offering half of what he had previously made.

She added: “He was constantly trying to get more money, he would skip his dinner hour to try and make more money.”

Eventually, faced with worries about feeding her family and providing a place to live, Mrs Unsworth turned to CAP and was able to create a payment plan. The process meant the couple spent six years paying off debts for their home and car until they were even.

Now, she works with the organisation to visit other people struggling with their own debts and hopes to use her experiences to help.

She added: “I understand totally that it’s all consuming, because it’s one thing to be in debt and owe money but when you’re actually on the verge of losing your home, when you’re on the verge of not having enough food, when you’re on the verge of constantly not being able to pay your bills or constantly worrying about your gas or electric - that’s a different kind of debt.”

The Bolton News:

While Mrs Unsworth’s story might seem like an extreme example, it is the sort of distressing tale that Mr Haldane and The Bank of England are hoping to learn from.

“Although CAP here are tending to deal with people who are perhaps in more extreme situations, people who are carrying around too much debt and finding it hard into the world of work – nonetheless that gives us really valuables insights and intelligence about whether the economy is working and how it can be made to work better,” he said.

“For many years we’ve been here talking largely to businesses about what’s been going on. Are they still hiring people? Are they still producing stuff? What are the costs to business? How’s it going?

“That’s extremely valuable intelligence for us, including me and my colleagues on the monetary policy committee, which sets the mortgage rate for people.

“But, it struck us a few years ago that while that is really valuable it was only one lens on how the economy was doing.

“It’s only one lens on how people were doing and wouldn’t it be really great if we could get a perspective from people, from households on how they thought things were going.

“Was their pay-packet going up? Were there plenty of jobs around? Did they feel secure in their job and how much money they get in the door?”