Social Justice

Average UK household faces £17,200 of debt by 2026: 'We can't afford a Tory government any longer'

People in the UK will face record debt, above levels seen in 2007, if urgent changes are not made to boost pay and benefits

debt worries

Debt can take its toll on people's mental health. Image: Pexels

People across the UK will face a record level of debt in the coming years, with the average household expected to owe nearly £17,200 by 2026, according to new analysis.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned of a “debt time bomb” as households are set to face a £1,400 rise in credit card and loan debt in 2024. This is an increase of 11% on 2023.

Paul Nowak, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “Every month the Tories stay in office the more families will be pushed into debt. This party of out-of-touch millionaires is more focussed on clinging to power than on growing our economy and getting living standards rising again.”

TUC analysis found that over the course of the next parliament, unsecured debt is set to rocket by £6,000 on average per family.  That includes debt from credit cards, loans and purchase hire agreements, while excluding mortgages and student loans.

“If something doesn’t change, real wages won’t recover to their 2008 levels until 2028,” Nowak added. “These 13 years of economic stagnation have left working people brutally exposed to the cost of living crisis. We cannot afford a Tory government for one day longer.”

Debt is set to reach £17,179 per household by 2026 – exceeding the previous record of £16,800 set in 2007. By 2028 unsecured debt per household is set to top £19,000.

These are shocking figures, but they don’t tell the wider story of the consequences of this debt. Recent research from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that around half of people facing debt have had suicidal thoughts in the last 20 months.

Rob, who spoke to The Big Issue about his experiences of debt and the impact it had on his mental health, said: “It’s the sense of shame that I’m not better at doing this stuff. A sense of being out of control and not being able to manage. There’s the inability to ask for help, because a man my age who had just had a very successful career should be able to manage.”

The TUC estimates that the average worker would now be £14,800 a year better off if their pay had kept up with pre-crisis real wage growth trends since 2008.

Nowak told The Big Issue: “There’s a sense that people are just at the end of their tether. They’ve been working flat-out through the pandemic and beyond, workloads ever-increasing, resources perpetually on the decline, and they’re being asked to do more for less. They’ve hit a breaking point.”

The union body says the sharp spike in debt, along with stagnant living standards, will “more than wipe out” any gains from the chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s cut to national insurance tax.



The Office for Budget Responsibility says the period between 2021 and 2024 will be the worst for living standards (real household disposable income per person) since records began in 1955.

Rob has felt this deeply: “Before we were going into the cost of living crisis, I’d managed to save a little bit of money. I had £600 in a savings account, which was there if something happened, like a big bill or something. I’d be able to cover it.

“And of course, as we went into the cost of living crisis, inflation hit 11%, the government increased benefits by just 3% [in 2021]. And my electricity and gas went up by four times.”

Now Rob has just £1.48 in his savings account. He has a debt on his credit card because he needed to pay for the essentials he needed to survive. He has sacrificed food because he has not got enough money.

Without urgent change to help people facing debt, Rob and millions of others across the country will face further debt in the coming months and years – and all the consequences that comes with it.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Where to get help if you are struggling with debt in the cost of living crisis

StepChange provides confidential and free expert advice on debt, as well as tips on budgeting, financial advice, and ways to prioritise your debts. 

Money Advice Trust operates a confidential national debtline which is available over the phone or via webchat.

Mental Health & Money Advice provides practical tips to lessen the strain of the financial crisis and maintain your mental wellbeing. 

Citizens Advice provides help to deal with problem debt, to avoid losing your home and to get back on top of your finances. 

MoneyHelper offers guidance to help you through the often-stressful situation of talking to a creditor about money you owe them, how to navigate credit and Buy Now Pay Later agreements, and other money concerns.

Find out more about getting help for debt here and for coping with mental health in the cost of living crisis here.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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