Since becoming a trained specialist debt adviser 5 years ago it is noticeable that more women than men in the community have contacted me for debt advice.
By Debt Advisor Sarah Pollard.
There are many reasons for this, not least because as women we tend to be communicators and are often more open to admitting there is a problem that we can’t manage on our own.
Women don’t necessarily owe more than men but are more likely to have problems with unmanageable debt. Women that work full time are still paid less than their male counterparts and according to the TUC more predominantly in low paid work.
Having a low income does not mean having unmanageable debt but a higher income is far more likely to protect from short term financial problems or shocks. If the washing machine breaks down and there is no spare cash the answer for women on low incomes is high cost short term credit.
Women are the primary carers in our communities and this often means gaps in employment or part time jobs. Women tend to have career breaks, act as carers for family members, work in low skilled, low paid, part time work and have jobs with less long-term security.
The fact that women are still seen as the primary carers for their family members is a bias that is so ingrained in our society that it impacts on the financial decisions that women are forced to take. This bias contributes to policy decisions made by the government in respect to benefits; women have been disproportionally affected by the benefit squeeze and a generation of women have been impacted by the rise in the working age. The private sector is still too ready to pay women less than men. This bias inevitable leads to financial insecurity.
90% of single parents are women and the majority of women that I support or have supported to become debt free receive no child maintenance payments. Parent’s living with children need to buy clothes, heat the home and pay for all other essentials and often rely on credit in order to meet these costs. Women will most likely have catalogue debt or high interest loans as they strive to care for their children on low paid income or benefits.
And then there is Domestic Abuse, which almost certainly means Financial Abuse, with women overwhelmingly likely to be the victims. Financial abuse involves women’s control of their finances being taken away from them and in some of the cases that I have supported, fraud and theft.
According to Women’s Aid 40% of women that flee Domestic Abuse are left in debt often because the abuser has forced their partner to take on all the household bills and any debts accrued but also forcing them to take out loans and credit in their own names. Women who have experienced domestic abuse are twice as likely to be in arrears with essential bills and to have borrowed money from a variety of sources to pay for essential items.
Being in debt is a contributing factor to poor mental health and the women I support will tell me that they are frightened to answer the door because of the sound of the post hitting the doormat. It is why I am committed to relieving them of the debt, to help them to become debt free and try my best to increase their income. The women I have supported are inspirational. They live on low incomes, they care for their children, ill family members, their friends and their communities and they do it all stoically and with courage.
No society will ever be equal until women are economically equal.