Channel 5’s spiral into debt hell

Channel 5’s My Spiral Into Debt Hell was a fair explanation of four debtors, but at the heart of the programme lies a big wrongness.


I watched Channel 5’s My Spiral into Debt Hell last night not only because one of the people featured (Candice) is a customer of ours with an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA), but because I wanted to understand the angle the programme would take.

Bluntly, I was concerned after last week’s The Big ‘Can’t Pay’ Debt Debate: Live on Channel 5 which featured some of the same people, that it might be similarly hectoring and condemnatory of a problem that affects nearly 10 million people of whom less than one in do anything about it.

It wasn’t. It was a straightforward, fair exploration of the situations of four people. It showed the consequences of falling into the hands of a loan shark and showed the devastating consequences of gambling addiction.

The programme also showed the results of stupidly ignoring your debt situation and doing absolutely nothing. And, in the case of our Candice, it showed the consequences of inexperience and fear.

But at the heart of this programme lies a big wrongness.

They were not your typical debtors

These people were not, with the possible exception of Candice, typical debtors. Typical debtors get into debt knowing they can afford to repay. Typical debtors begin to struggle not because they shop until they drop but because their life changes.

They suffer a period of illness, unemployment or their overtime is stopped, or they have a child, or a government comes along and imposes a bedroom tax.

Typical debtors carry on struggling because they think things will get better. Sadly, this is rarely true and often their first big mistake.

People in debt they can’t cope with should get advice the moment they realise this. 80% don’t.

And, after last night, fewer still will feel inclined to do so. People want the respect of their friends and neighbours. Last night and last week I closely followed the Twitter streams generated by these programmes. Tweeters were dissing debtors and accusing them of stupidity or worse in 140 characters or less.


It’s not Channel 5’s fault

All they were trying to do was produce good telly. Which they did – by pandering to the general scorn in which the indebted are held by the rest of us.

Well, reader, I’ve been in debt and, if you haven’t then it’s a pretty good chance that you, or someone you know will be at some point. If we can’t do something about this social stigma then I doubt we will do much to reduce  the majority who sit on their hands and do nothing.

It was good to see entrepreneur Peter Jones from Dragons’ Den joining the conversation and referring to loosing everything at 28 after being questioned about whether he had been in debt.

Candice’s escape from debt hell

As for Candice, she is rather a special case. She decided to do something and she is now in a solution, an IVA, that freezes her interest and charges and will write off debt if she makes all the payments.

The fees are industry standard and, if Candice makes all the payments, the fees are effectively paid by the creditors. She’s special because, up until a couple of years ago only people with a large amount of debt and a biggish surplus income could get an IVA. That’s not true any more.

IVAs are now the most used personal insolvency solution in England and Wales and available to almost anyone at almost any level of debt. They are fair to debtor and creditor. Candice is one of the first of a new generation to use this route to climb back out of debt hell.

Have your say on the debt debate

What did you think of Channel 5’s handling of the debt debate? Has it inspired you to deal with your debts? Please share your views below in the comments or join me on Twitter @Andrew_F_Smith" href="" target="_blank">@Andrew_F_Smith.

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