When my sons were little I often took them to prison. Not because they had misbehaved and needed something more than the dreaded naughty stair. No, rainy Saturdays often found us in our world class York Castle Museum and its 18th century prison exhibition.

There you can hear and read stories of the Castle Prison’s miserable inmates in days gone by. A few were notorious murderers like Dick Turpin but the vast majority were ordinary folk whose life had taken a bad turn in an age where the welfare state meant, at best, the hellish workhouse. A large proportion of those unfortunate people were imprisoned for debt.

Of course, York’s debtors’ prison is thankfully long gone. Not so, debt itself. Sadly, that metaphorical prison is growing month by month in the UK. Is it just me who feels we are all affected, whether we owe money or not, and should all be alarmed?

The national statistics are clear. And we can be quite certain they apply to York.

According to the national watchdog for the finance sector, the Financial Conduct Authority, borrowing through credit cards, overdrafts and car loans has topped £200bn for the first time since the global financial crisis in 2008.

The FCA have reported that a staggering 2.2 million people with debt on credit cards, personal lending and car loans were in ‘financial distress’ and that they tend to be young with children, unemployed and less educated than others.

However, it is not just unemployed people who are affected. The Office of National Statistics has calculated that adjusted for inflation, UK employees are now earning £15 less a week after tax and deductions than they were before the last financial crash.

In other words, millions of ordinary folk up and down Britain face the possibility of a cliff edge in their personal finances at the end of each month. And anyone who has lived with a large overdraft on a low income can tell you how hard it is to clear, especially at a time when inflation is increasing the price of food and housing costs, not to mention remorseless rises in utility bills.

‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ cautions Shakespeare and if he had been around today he would find plenty of evidence to support his words.

A cynic might argue our materialistic, consumer culture and the immensely powerful media machine serving it have created and fostered false needs in people for decades. After all, who wants to feel left behind, even a failure, when it comes to their material possessions?

Of course, getting into debt is ultimately a question of personal responsibility. After all, no one forces you to go beyond what you can naturally afford to secure a new car, clothes or a holiday. Except that financial circumstances can suddenly change and what was once affordable becomes a terrible burden. Then credit cards can be the only way to pay for necessities not luxuries.

Certainly there is clear evidence of irresponsible lending practices among banks and finance companies. The Bank of England’s head of financial stability, Alex Brazier, recently accused lenders of “dicing with a spiral of complacency” that posed a serious risk to the economy.

What is particularly alarming about the current situation is its similarity to the irresponsible lending that fuelled the 2007 crash. It has now become evident that the UK economy only kept growing after the Brexit referendum with its resulting slump in the pound because of mushrooming consumer credit.

Such a situation is unsustainable. Likewise, the government’s appalling hike of the national debt to £1.7 trillion makes it unlikely we could afford the kind of bail out that saved the banks a decade ago.

Lending needs to be much more closely regulated with rip-off overdraft and loan repayment charges brought into line. Greed is not need. Above all, we must not allow Britain to become a low wage, low regulation, low investment, low public services tax haven floating off the coast of Europe as some ‘hard’ Brexiteers clearly desire. Such a UK would only benefit the very wealthy and could become a vast debtors’ prison for generations to come.