More families fall into debt

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WHILE George Osborne is congratulating himself for guiding Britain towards economic recovery and contemplating a consequent General Election victory in a year’s time, more and more evidence is emerging that few households are sharing the Chancellor’s euphoria.

On the contrary, many families are in an “extremely precarious” financial position, according to a new report by the Children’s Society and the StepChange debt charity, with nearly three million households with dependent children on the brink of sliding into financial difficulties, to join the 1.4 million already there.

Of course, this is not to deny the reality of the recovery. However, with wage growth being minimal and household bills continuing to soar, many families are finding their finances deteriorating rather than improving, giving ever more credence to Labour’s claim that the link between growth and living standards is broken.

The report, as the authors insist, is a stark warning of the effect that spreading indebtedness is having on children, and a reminder that, as the Archbishop of York says, struggling families must be offered an alternative to the onerous interest rates of money-lenders.

For, even though there has been nothing wrong with the Government’s recipe for recovery – reining in public spending, cutting taxes for lower earners, removing disincentives to work and improving the education system – it will not be an election-winning strategy if more and more households are seeing their standards of living worsen.

The Chancellor has to show the electorate that this is a recovery for the many, not the few, and for the whole country, not merely the booming South East. And with the number of people dependent on food banks tripling in a year, more families sliding into debt and even the middle classes becoming increasingly squeezed, this is becoming an ever more difficult task.

Health emergency: Time for a radical solution

THE PEOPLE of Barnsley, already shocked to learn that their hospital trust was being investigated for “financial irregularities”, will be even more surprised to learn that it is now in the red to the tune of £7.4m.

Considering that, only two months ago, a small surplus was being predicted, it seems that Barnsley Hospital Foundation Trust has serious questions to answer. One of the key reasons for the financial crisis, however, has been known for some time – a repeated failure to hit national accident-and-emergency targets which has now resulted in the trust spending 10 per cent more than expected.

However, while there are undoubtedly shortcomings in this case that are individual to the Barnsley trust – on which health regulator Monitor must take action – the larger national picture has to be considered.

The national shortage of A&E doctors has hit Barnsley particularly badly, resulting in a decision to employ temporary staff at premium rates in a failed attempt to hit its targets.

And while it is hardly unreasonable for the Government to expect an NHS foundation trust to manage its finances efficiently, the shortage of A&E staff is affecting hospitals throughout the country and it is clear that a national solution is necessary.

Loath as the Government is to raise doctors’ salaries, it is fair to conclude that, following the boost to GP recruitment which followed the introduction of a new contract, another offer of cash will have a similarly miraculous effect on doctors’ unwillingness to take on the arduous duties of A&E work.

Level crossings still dangerous

while it may be true that, as Network Rail says, risks at level crossings have been reduced by a quarter since 2010, another fatality was unfortunately added to a very long list yesterday when a motorist lost his life in a collision with a train during rush-hour at a level crossing at Scampston, near Malton.

And while the full circumstances of this particular incident have yet to emerge, it is clear that more work is necessary to make these perilous junctions as safe as possible.

Over the past four years, 10 per cent of the most dangerous crossings have been closed, while safety measures have been improved at many others.

However, there is clearly much more work to be done and, while crossing a railway can never be completely safe, any more than driving itself can ever become entirely safe, it is incumbent on all involved – Network Rail, local authorities, landowners and the public – to do everything possible to minimise the risks.