Young people bearing the brunt of Britain’s debt

• Polling reveals 55% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 48% of 25-34yos say debt increasing, compared to only 13% of over-65s

• ‘Unexpected expenses’ and ‘affording the basics’ are most common money worries

• Findings come ahead of a major study into the impact of debt on Britain’s homes

Over three times as many young people than pensioners are bearing the brunt of increasing debt, according to new findings revealed by the think tank Demos.

55% of 18-24 year olds, and 48% of 25-34 year olds, said that their debt had increased over the past five years, compared to only 13% of over-65s. In comparison, only 12% of 18-24 year olds, and 28% of 25-34 year olds, saw their debt decrease during the same period.

The findings come from a Demos poll of 1,775 adults released ahead of a comprehensive report on the ‘real-life’ impact of debt due to be published next month.

Respondents were asked to calculate the full extent of their debt, including credit cards, rent and bill arrears, and any combination of bank, student or payday loans

The majority of young people said they had over £2,000 of debt. However, a fifth (19%) of both 18-24 year olds and almost a quarter (22%) of 25-34 year olds revealed they currently owe in excess of £10,000.

The figures present a bleak scenario for young adults already facing pressure from a cost of living squeeze, rising rents and the Government’s welfare and housing benefit reforms.

Demos researchers found that although there may be positive reasons for getting into debt – such as funding their studies – the reasons are much more likely to be negative, with many struggling to make ends meet at the end of each month.

Amongst 25-34 year olds: 35% got into debt due to ‘unexpected expenses’, 28% couldn’t ‘afford the basics’, while 27% cited a ‘one-off purchase’.

Of the 18-24 year olds surveyed, less than a third (30%) put their rising debt down to positive reasons such as ‘investing in their future’, despite being the most likely group to have taken a student loan. 28% cited ‘unexpected expenses’, 27% to ‘afford the basics’ and 18% to cover their rent.

Jo Salter, a researcher at Demos who led the project, said:

“When we talk about rising debt levels, it is young people in their 20s and 30s who are bearing the brunt. This is a time in their lives when previous generations would be thinking about starting a family or trying to get on the property ladder. Instead of saving for the future, they are being dragged into debt just to meet the costs of living.

“It’s a common mistake to assume that all debt is equally bad for all people. Demos is trying to uncover some of the differences between peoples’ experience of debt, based on the various ways it affects them – from legal consequences to emotional distress to the risk of finances flying out of control in the longer term.

“In this way, providers of advice and support to people in debt can move away from treating everyone the same and towards a more tailored response, designed to tackle specific impacts of debt.”



Demos conducted polling of 1775 British adults asking about size, type and cause of debt.

The polling was carried out as part of Demos’s ‘Typology of Debt’ project that seeks to develop a ‘harm index’ for assessing the impact of debt, taking into account its ‘real-life’ consequences, rather than classifying debt through reference to the products generating it

The project includes workshops with practitioners from debt and benefits advice services, homelessness and other support charities to help develop the indicators used to assess different types of debt; focus groups around the country with people currently in debt or with experience of a variety of types of debt, from different backgrounds; polling of the public; and reviews of innovative good practice in tackling debt.