Seán Neeson MLA said: “The most fundamental challenge here is for working families, most likely not entitled to any benefits, who face genuine challenges paying bills for commodities, and often covering a mortgage. There is little point in linking debt advice to benefits, when so many people needing the advice are not on benefits – nor should we be attempting to persuade people on to benefits, when they are working.
“We should be building the issue of rising household debt into almost every aspect of our policies. Firstly, on energy, increased competition and ensuring easier access to renewable energy sources would serve to help hugely with household budgets, given the size of bills currently facing many people.
“Secondly, on the economy, we need to be preparing people through training and skills to that we grow quickly when the upturn comes. Again, there is a green issue here, as becoming a global leader on the green economy would be essential to positioning ourselves in the new global economy. Rather than leaving people to rely on benefits, we need to focus on getting people into jobs and, if not, suitable training. It is here that the link has to be made between encouraging vocational training and debt advice.
“Thirdly, we also need to stop more people going into debt. The same people talking in the Assembly about household debt were talking 18 months ago about how we had to put forward initiatives to help people secure mortgages. The lesson of the collapse of the global economy is that we all have to be much more careful about borrowing money. Likewise, businesses should only borrow against solid business plans, and the Executive should have taken risk into account when developing its current budget – the holes in the budget which have appeared since are evidence of this.
“Existing advice centres are best placed to offer debt advisory services – although I accept that standards can very considerably even within the same organisation. It may be useful to find a way of approving the advice given.
“I also look forward to hearing from the Executive how it is going to proof every aspect of educational, economic and even environmental policy to minimise household debt in the first place.”