‘Women bearing brunt of cost of living debt crisis’

Women are significantly more likely to seek debt advice due to the gender pay gap and childcare responsibilities falling more on them, according to a new report.

Child hold woman's hand at a table. She has her head in her hands and there is an open purse on the table with just a few pence spilling out of it.


Women are disproportionately being affected by the cost of living crisis, according to a new report by debt crisis charity StepChange.

The report finds the proportion of women seeking debt advice from StepChange has grown substantially over recent years and has got worse due to the cost of living crisis: 64% of people seeking advice for the first time in the first six months of 2023 were women – a 4% increase since 2022.

This is because women are more likely to have a lower average income and to work part time, with more in receipt of Universal Credit, compared to men and more of their income coming from UC if they are on benefits. They are also more likely to be single parents, heading 88% of single parent households.

Also the report, based on 97,680 StepChange clients, finds that women consistently have higher expenditure levels compared to men, with a greater proportion of women having a negative budget, meaning their income is not enough to cover their essential expenditure. The cost-of-living crisis has seen women move from an average budget surplus to an average budget deficit, according to the report, with women on average unable to make ends meet even after debt advice. By contrast, men seeking advice from StepChange have on average experienced a decline in
budget surplus but remain in surplus.

The report also finds women are more likely to have fallen behind on various essential household bills such as energy, council tax, and water, with higher arrears amounts. Moreover, women with children spent more on energy and energy costs were even more disproportionate for single mums.

The report says that in 2023, the average monthly surplus/deficit for women was below £0 at -£30, whereas the average monthly surplus/deficit for men was greater than £0, at £40. Women’s average monthly surplus/deficit had since fallen by £37 since the first six months of 2022. Men have seen a less drastic drop in their average monthly surplus/deficit  from £56 in the first half of 2022 to £40 in the first half of 2023.

The report says women’s financial experiences vary and are shaped significantly by many factors, with certain groups of women, such as single parents, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and those living in London more likely to face financial difficulties.

StepChange says their report shows the importance of benefits, such as Universal Credit, in bridging the financial gap for women who are working part time, have a low income and/or are single parents as well as the importance of tailored approaches to the different problems different women face.

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