IT is traditionally seen as one of the most affluent counties in the country.
With its leafy suburbs with houses worth seven-figure sums, sprawling countryside, and lavish marinas boasting expensive yachts, Hampshire is one of the most desirable places to live in the country and is home to high earners on the Forbes rich list.
But a new report has revealed a hidden burden facing thousands of families across the county on a daily basis.
More than 40,000 cash-strapped families in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are struggling to make ends meet as they attempt to balance a £140million-worth of debt.
Now the charities that published the report say the crisis is having an impact on thousands of children, causing stress, anxiety, and even bullying.
And what's causing the rising debt?
Credit card payments, rising bills, and loans - all described as “problem debt” by report publishers The Children's Society and StepChange Debt Charity.
The figures - which do not include the added pressures of mortgage payments or rent - show each household feeling the squeeze in Hampshire are in debt by at least an average of £3,400.
According to the charities, families are locked in a “toxic cycle of debt” as they look to pay off debts by using credit cards and other loans - culminating finances spiralling out of control.
The figures have been described as “troubling” and now the charities are calling on the government to change policy and offer more support for families and children shackled by problem.
The research - titled The Debt Trap: Exposing the impact of problem debt on children - shows families in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight owe a total of £138,932,866.
Struggling families in Southampton and Romsey owe a total of £31,470,335, according to the research, and reveal 7,044 families in the area are facing mounting repayments.
The report also reveals 41,172 families in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are affected by problem debt.
A total of 5,371 families are in £23,996,130 of problem debt on the Isle of Wight, 1,296 families are in £5,788,294 of debt in Winchester, and 2,403 families are in £10,733,632 of debt in Eastleigh, the research shows.
Nationally parents owe a total of £4.8billion in bills and loans, according to the survey.
The charities' findings reveal children in families with problem debt are more than twice as likely to be unhappy at school and be bullied because they do not have the same things as their friends.
It also shows that more than half of children families with problem debt say they worry about their family's situation, while nine out of ten families in problem debt say they have had to cut back on essentials like food, clothing and heating for their children to keep up repayments.
Cllr Mark Chaloner, cabinet member of children's safeguarding at Southampton City Council, said the figures are “shocking”, and added the cost of living crisis is “biting hard” in Southampton.
He said: “The simple reality is children suffer first and most when families start to suffer financially.
“The priority is food but for children stimulation and being active is vital to help them grow up. At the moment there are millions of people struggling in the cost of living crisis, which is biting hard, and it's biting hard in Southampton.
“There is support available for the most in need but unfortunately the support is not available for those that provide for families just above the breadline but are still struggling.
“There are organisations like the Children's Play Association and Sure Start, which are wonderful resources for families.
“The figures are shocking and very troubling, and the emergence of pay day loan companies have not helped too.”
Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said a savings culture in the UK has disappeared and the county is in a “ticking time bomb” of personal debt.
She said: “I think one of the major problems has been the easy availability of credit, and a savings culture in the UK that has all but disappeared. Combined with a lack of personal financial education we now have a ticking time bomb of personal debt.
“There are some brilliant advice services out there, and if you talk to the Citizen's Advice Bureau in Romsey I think it would be fair to say the majority of the cases they are involved with have some debt related angle. There are also some great credit unions doing some really important work with local families, but it is easy to see in a very consumer orientated society how easy it is for debt to spiral.”
In the New Forest East constituency, the report shows a total of 1,535 families are £6,856,037-worth of problem debt.
Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, said: “We live in an age when it's probably easier than it ever has been in the past to spend money and to rack up debts without realising the magnitude of what one's doing until the bills come in and when it's too late.“The government cannot take over from an individual's responsibly to manage their financial affairs.“The Money Advice Service is a huge source of support and wisdom which people can draw on to help them release from this downward spiral.”
Both the Children's Society and StepChange Debt Charity have called on the government to make a string of changes to offer more support for families and children shackled by problem debt as a result of the report.The organisations are calling on the government to consider a breathing space scheme to give families an extended period of protection from additional charges, review whether protection for children against the harm caused by debt collection is working, provide earlier and wider access to debt support and advice, and impose tighter restrictions on advertising loans to children.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society, said: “Families in the south east are increasingly relying on debt as a way to make ends meet - but we're in danger of ignoring the impact this is having on children now and in the future. We cannot allow children to pay the price of debt.
“This research exposes the shocking reality of parents lying awake at night worrying and unhappy children going without. Many families are feeling the squeeze and parents struggling on low wages are battling just to pay the bills.”
Mike O'Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “As parents become trapped in a toxic cycle of debt, children can become the unwitting victims. This is not acceptable in a society that aspires to justice and fairness.”