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Borrowing and debt is far from gender neutral. Women are more likely than men to claim social security benefits, more likely to be in low-paid, part-time and insecure work, more likely to be providing care for children/family members and more likely to have to make up for cuts to services through unpaid work. As women’s incomes are generally lower over their lifetimes this leaves them more vulnerable to short-term financial problems or income shocks making them more likely to have to rely on borrowing and debt to make ends meet.

Financial Conduct Authority Covid survey data looking at anxiety levels by gender shows that levels of stress due to negative changes in financial situation were higher among women compared to men (22% compared with 19%) and were generally higher on all measures for women.

Local research by the Women’s Regional Consortium on Women Living with Debt18 also highlighted the links between debt and mental health problems. The links between debt and mental health were very evident in discussions with the women who took part in the research – 72% said they were negatively impacted by being in debt mainly around their mental health/wellbeing. The following quotes taken from this research show the impact of debt on women’s mental health:

  • “I feel low about my debts.”
  • “Debt impacted on my wellbeing and enjoying the time spent with my new born.”
  • “Debt affects my mental health and my relationship with my partner.”
  • “Low mood, severe anxiety, loss of sleep.”
  • “Constant worry, stress and panic attacks.”
  • “Debt causes stress, anxiety and sleepless nights.”
  • “Debt destroys your mental health.”
  • “It’s very stressful being in debt. I have had more panic attacks about how I’m going to get through the rest of the week.”
  • “I will wake up at four in the morning worrying about how I’m going to afford Christmas. It just heightens your anxiety levels. I ended up having to go to the GP to get something for it. Debt is a big part of that. Every time I hear about gas or electric going up I wonder how I’m going to cope.”
  • “Debt affects your mood and your relationships. You become stressed and have a short fuse and snap at each other about small things.”

This is an excerpt from the WRC response to the Call for Evidence – Debt Respite Policy Proposals for Northern Ireland