TENS of thousands of children are suffering anxiety, bullying and stress as their families fall behind with debt repayments of more than £145 million, a report has revealed.

The study found more than 34,000 Sussex families struggling to pay debts of £146 million between them – averaging £4,308 each.

Experts say children growing up in a family with ‘problem debt’ – falling behind on repayments of bills or credit commitments – become “unwitting victims” as households come under financial strain.

Families in Hastings and Rye have fallen behind on the largest amount of debt in the south east, with 3,749 households caring for 6,521 children owing £16.7million combines.

More than £16million is owed by 3,736 families in Worthing, which have 6,502 children between them, while 3,006 families in Eastbourne, including more than 5,000 children, have fallen behind with £13.4 million worth of payments.

In Brighton Kemptown more than 2,300 families and their 4,000 children share £10.2 million between them while 1,610 Brighton Pavilion families caring for 2,802 children owe £7.1million.

The families include a 38-year-old mother of four from Brighton, who wanted to remain anonymous, who forks out £100 a month from her £600 budget on debt payments.

She said: “It’s an uphill struggle and because we're struggling to pay things off the kid suffer.

“It’s a task getting them decent meals, clothing, school trips and the rest and it is heartbreaking.

“They are aware of the situation because I’m quite honest with them, but they lose out because if I can’t give it to all of them I won’t give it to any of them.

“We owe about £7,000 on credit cards and overdrafts.”

The research was carried out by The Children’s Society and StepChange debt charity.

The charities said low wage growth since 2008 meant many families who suffered in the financial crisis failed to recover financially while many more have fallen into financial difficulties.

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.

“With little savings to fall back on, it can take just one unexpected setback - like illness or being made redundant - to tip a family over the edge and into a debt trap that can feel impossible to escape from.”