Intimidating debt collectors push Britons to suicide - report

LONDON Wed Jan 23, 2013 2:23am GMT

Commuters cross the Millennium Bridge during a rainy morning, towards the financial district the City of London November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Commuters cross the Millennium Bridge during a rainy morning, towards the financial district the City of London November 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - Irresponsible lending and intimidating debt collectors are pushing thousands of people in Britain into depression and suicide, a report said on Wednesday and separate data showed more people are taking their own lives.

Many people already struggling with the economic slowdown, wage freezes and benefit cuts were often overwhelmed by tactics used by some money lenders, including persistent phone calls and threatening letters, said the paper.

"Debt clients frequently feel humiliated, disconnected and entrapped, with the process of debt collection having a clear impact on people's mental health," the report by researchers from England's University of Brighton said.

"The government must take urgent action to tackle the problem of irresponsible lending and intimidatory collection tactics which has left thousands of people trapped in a spiral of debt and at risk of depression and even suicide," it said.

Separately, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on Tuesday showed a "significant" rise in suicides in 2012.

The Brighton report, launched on Wednesday by British parliamentarian Molly Meacher, said there were cases of individuals not eating properly and asking their young children for money to tide them over.

One individual who owed money described the effect of his wife's credit card lapsing.

"I was very close to calling the doctor to her because she is that close to breaking because of ... these continual phone calls," the man was quoted as saying.

SIGNIFICANT RISE

The total number of suicides in the UK hit 6,045 in 2011, a 7.8 percent increase on 2010 with deaths among men accounting for the largest proportion, according to figures from the ONS.

A total of 4,552 men took their own lives in 2011 compared with 1,493 women.

British mental health charity SANE said the downturn in Britain, which is struggling to maintain economic growth, was behind a "significant" rise in the number of suicides, reflecting a trend seen in other Western countries.

"These figures ... reveal the profound human consequences of the economic downturn, in which unemployment, debt and the relationship breakdowns that often follow can push people who may be already vulnerable to take their own lives," said Marjorie Wallace, SANE's chief executive.

Suicide rates in the United States have also risen more steeply in recent years.

"It is also worrying that the group most at risk should be middle-aged men, who are not usually perceived to be at risk," said Wallace, commenting on the ONS figures.

Among men aged between 45 and 59 years old, the suicide rate increased significantly between 2007 and 2011 to 22.2 deaths per 100,000 people, the ONS said.

(Editing by Kate Kelland and Andrew Heavens)

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