Ashamed Of Your Debt? Talking About It Is The First Step

·Senior Editor of commercial partnerships, HuffPost UK
·38-min read

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“We talk about sex more than we talk about money,” says Bola Sol, financial wellness coach and founder of the Rich Girl Chronicles. “You have to question these things. I don’t get it.”

Bola is one of our two guests on the latest episode of HuffPost UK Life’s new podcast, Am I Making You Uncomfortable? in which we’re tackling the stigma we often feel talking about money head on.

Also joining us is Josie Warner, senior research and insight officer at the debt charity StepChange, with expert advice on breaking the cycle of debt and smashing some taboos around money in the process.

Debt is something that impacts women in unique ways, after all – 60% of people who approach Step Change to use its services are women. So, the issues are systemic. Coronavirus has only compounded this, with job insecurity and reduced pay making it harder to stay afloat. Debt is complicated and it’s uncomfortable. But when you start tackling it, that weight begins to lift.

(Photo: Nattakorn Maneerat via Getty Images)
(Photo: Nattakorn Maneerat via Getty Images)

You can subscribe, download and listen to Am I Making You Uncomfortable? on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all major podcasting platforms. You’ll also find a full transcript of our chat below so even more of you can benefit from Bola and Josie’s excellent advice.

Join in the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #AIMYU – and go behind the scenes by subscribing to our podcast newsletter to hear what inspired us to tackle the topics you’re probably too squeamish to talk about.

Am I Making You Uncomfortable? co-hosts Brogan Driscoll and Rachel Moss (Photo: HuffPost UK)
Am I Making You Uncomfortable? co-hosts Brogan Driscoll and Rachel Moss (Photo: HuffPost UK)

Episode 8: Transcript

Brogan Driscoll:

Hello, and welcome to HuffPost’s brand new weekly podcast. Am I Making You Uncomfortable? Presented by me, Brogan Driscoll.

Rachel Moss:

And me Rachel Moss. This podcast is a frank honest conversation about women’s bodies, health and private lives. This week, we’re discussing women and debt. 60% of the people who use the debt support charity StepChange are women. There are so many ways that debt can be gendered from the fact that store cards are aimed at women to the gender pay gap, to the fact that women are more likely to be single parents.

Brogan:

We’ll be joined by Josie Warner, senior research and insight officer at Debt Charity StepChange and Financial Wellness Coach Bola Sol. And you can join the conversation by using the hashtag #AIMYU.

Okay, I’ll go first because I was in debt for quite a long time. For the whole of my 20s, actually. I’ve only just paid off my debt and for a long time it was something that I felt ashamed about. I just hid away from it. I didn’t even... I had a credit card with a separate bank, so I didn’t see the number and it was something I...

I used my credit card at the end of every month. I wasn’t very good at managing my spending, in the fact that I just used to go out all the time and go out for dinners – honestly, three or four times a week. And who did I think I was? And on a journalist, entry level salary. I was keeping up with my friends who were accountants and engineers and being an idiot. But anyway.

Rachel:

Although I feel like you’re so harsh on yourself saying, “being an idiot”, because I have plenty of friends who were in that same situation as you. I will admit that I wasn’t, because I’m not going to pretend that I’ve ever been in bad debt when I haven’t, because I am the stingiest person you’ll ever meet on the other end of the scale. I freak out if I’ve had two takeaways in a month. So I am the opposite of that, but I know plenty of people who will completely relate to what you were saying. And I don’t think it’s stupid at all, because it’s so hard not to get swept up with your friendship group and their spending habits. I think for me, luckily, my friendship group, I’ve said this to you before, I’m naturally the organiser and I’m also stingy. So when I organise meals, it’s to really cheap restaurants or a picnic. So basically I’m responsible for helping everyone else stay out of debt.

Brogan:

That’s so good, I wish I had a friend like you. But also you said that I’m being harsh on myself. You just said that you’re stingy: are we kind of excusing the way we approach money in a way that is not very fair.

Rachel:

Yeah. That’s so true.

Brogan:

To be sensible with money, even saying sensible makes it seem like you’re boring, which you aren’t at all.

Rachel:

Yeah.

Brogan:

Yeah. It’s so interesting.

Rachel:

Yeah. It definitely is. And I think it plays into the whole idea that we moralise the way we talk about money and particularly debts as well. So I’ve never been into big credit card debt or anything like that. But actually I do have massive debt in the form of a student loan and a mortgage. And those things are considered good debt. Whereas credit cards are considered and I say, this with air quotes, “bad debt.” And it’s just so crazy how there are different judgments attached to different types of debt.

Rachel:

I almost feel if somebody says that they’ve got themselves into their overdraft because they’ve bought loads of clothes: you have to check yourself not to call that irresponsible. Whereas if somebody says they’re a single mother and they’re in debt because they’re struggling with their rent you go, “Oh my God, that’s really sad.”

When actually both of those situations are going to impact that person’s life that will relate to their emotions and their well-being and their mental health. And I think it serves absolutely no one to get judgmental about debt. It’s not helpful.

Brogan:

It’s really interesting because I feel like for a really long time, I would joke about the fact that I had debt. But I would never ever have told anyone what the number was.

Rachel:

Yeah.

Brogan:

Because I feel like everyone spoke about using credit cards and lots of people spoke about not having any money and being broke, but there was so much shame around it. I saw this post actually on Instagram, the other day from a woman who – she’s just released a book actually. It’s called My Frugal Year, her account – and she was in about £26,000 of debt. And she’s documenting her journey, getting out of it. And something that she posted on her Instagram account a couple of weeks ago was, “You’re not in debt. You have debt.” Which I thought was really interesting because I never thought about that. It’s a difference between your debt being your identity and your debt being the situation that you’re currently in that-

Rachel:

Absolutely.

Brogan:

... with help, obviously depending on how serious your debt is, because my debt was not terrible. It was about £8,000, which is a lot of money, but not something that I couldn’t get myself out of. If I was in a sticky situation, I’m sure I would have been. I could have gone and lived with my parents. It’s really interesting that idea of having debt versus being in debt, I think.

Rachel:

Yeah

Brogan:

It’s temporary. It’s something you can offload if you have help.

Rachel:

Yeah. It’s a nice way of thinking about it. And also you touched on there, the idea that even though it wasn’t comfortable for you having that debt, you knew you had a safety net. And I think just being upfront about those privileges and also about the big spectrum of debt as well. Because it does go from the, “Oh shit, I’ve spent too much this month” to really, really impacting people’s lives and they’re in it out of necessity. We’re getting a little bit better I think, as women talking about money, I love Money Diaries, which I know has got huge on Refinery29, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, which has got a huge following. It is anonymised accounts of women sharing their spending habits, whether that’s debt or not debt, all the ins and outs. And those kinds of things are at least like bringing up the conversation a bit more, I think.

Brogan:

You mentioned that Money Diaries on Refinery29 is an anonymous kind of column and I think that’s what makes it so brilliant and also such a safe space for women to talk about their money – their salary, their spending, their debt, their kind of living situation. In a way that allows them not to be judged because when Money Diaries... It’s from the US actually. It’s a US import from Refinery29, but when it kind of blew up in the UK, I remember lots and lots of publications (I don’t know if you remember this, Rach) trying to copy the format -

Rachel:

Yes.

Brogan:

And the issue with all of the copycat approaches is that they featured the women – they even named them, or they had their pictures in – and there were a couple of occasions where, I remember one in particular where there was a woman who lived with her parents, had a decent salary but had no savings and used to spend quite a lot of her salary, just on clothes and going out. And she basically went viral with loads and loads of people dragging her for being irresponsible and being entitled. And It just struck me that the confessional nature of the Money Diaries format is like another way that society can judge women based on their money situation. And I think it’s good that Refinery29 is anonymous because it protects the people who are coming forward about it and it does open up a really interesting conversation. Because I don’t know any of my friends’ salaries.

Rachel:

Really?

Brogan:

No.

Rachel:

That’s interesting. You find out salaries more if your mates are in public sector jobs. So I’ve got so many friends who were teachers: so the pay scales are very public. And as soon as they’ve got a head of department job I know within a range, what they’re going to be paid. And I think because of that, they’re quite open about it. But when you’re in private sector jobs, it’s a whole other matter. Even among other journalists. It takes a real long time to get to know someone to have that honest conversation, to even figure out if you’re on the right salary.

Brogan:

So obviously money is a really taboo subject, particularly in British culture. And I think that debt is even more taboo. So it’s really great that we’re going to be having this conversation. And we’re going to hear from some listeners who have sent us in their own experiences of debt too.

Testimony 1:

My experience of debt is that you never get out of debt. You need a dream come true or winning a lottery to actually balance yourself. And that’s what my experience is. It’s more a mental thing. You have to be strong and know how to balance and learn how to budget, but you never really be free from debt. I mean who is? Credit cards, mortgages, things like that. Everyone’s got some debt to pay, but if you come from my background and many like me who have never had savings or having a job that can bring in £30,000 a year. We’ve always been on the breadline. And so we’ve had to get into debt to be able to survive.

Testimony 2:

I got bankrupt about 15 years ago and I lost all the money I had then made me feel like a failure. I had to rely on parents and friends and I had to start from zero and build up. Psychologically it was a very hard time. What it changed is it changed my attitude towards risk. I became quite afraid of taking risks. I thought it happened to me because I wanted more money, more recognition, more success. So it changed my perspective on how I looked at things. It made me concentrate on the job from then on. I just wanted to do the best I can and the success and the money if they ever came, came after that. And I also, started looking at things to the perspective of need: do I really need to buy that thing? Do I really need it? So I think overall it was a good experience.

Brogan:

Next up, we’re joined by Bola Sol, financial wellness coach and the founder of Rich Girl Chronicles. A community for women to come together and talk money. Bola, thank you so much for joining us today. So you’re a financial wellness coach and I wondered whether you could explain what financial wellness means exactly for our listeners.

Bola Sol:

Yeah. So financial wellness is basically having less anxiety around your funds and regardless of how much you make. I understand everybody’s circumstances are quite different, but it’s really key that people inhale and exhale when it comes to their finances as well. And I say, “Okay, how can I help others have a positive relationship with money so that they don’t avoid it, but they’re getting in front of it and they feel confident.” Rich Girl Chronicles is about defining your story with money. So whether you want a one bedroom house for yourself, or somebody wants a six bedroom house, you get to decide how you value your money. Because also, to be fair, reflection of how you value yourself, how you value your time and how you value your energy.

Rachel:

I love that. It’s such a positive way of framing it. Where do we learn our money habits from? Would you say, so some of those habits that are getting in our own way,

Bola:

It’s parents, it’s media, it’s gentrification, it’s colonisation, it’s patriarchy, it’s history, right? It’s about how we are taught from home, but also what our parents were taught, right? And who their parents were. And so a variety of sources.

Rachel:

We were talking about our own money experiences at the start and Brogan was really honest about her own experience of debt. And then I said on the flip side, I’m the stingiest human being you’ve ever met. And I do think that comes from my upbringing and having a time when things were really tight financially. So my mum was very open about budgeting and all of those things. So I guess you can either lean into what you learn or you can rebel against it, can’t you? Is that something that you see with the women you talk to a lot?

Bola:

Absolutely. It’s about learning and unlearning and I’m very honest with my journey as well. And when I say, “Look I’m not in the best place financially, or I am.” I guess it starts with honest conversation, right?

Rachel:

Yeah. So true. And could you tell us a bit – I think this leads us really nicely into all of your work with Rich Girl Chronicles – could you tell us what it involves exactly and how it works?

Bola:

Yeah. So it’s currently an accountability group. And every month there is only one obligation. You send me your budget before the new month begins or at the start of the new month. And I always told them a budget is a forecast, but I need to see that you are committing to this and then we have various discussions about everything. So recently we had a discussion that we have... some of them are co-founders of amazing companies and some are also coaches of different industries and things like that. So it’s literally just a collective of women who come together and we just say, “Look, we are actually very powerful.” Recently on Sunday we shared multiple streams of income. I shared how I’m currently making five streams of income. Somebody shared how they’re making two. And sometimes some of those income streams aren’t as powerful as the others in terms of the financial value, but it was about sharing and saying, “Okay, how do we get started here? How did you get started?” So it’s literally just a community of women who are empowering each other financially.

Brogan:

We were talking earlier about how there is quite a lot of secrecy around money. I’m really interested in how you’ve like tipped that on its head and brought people together to talk openly about their finances and how that... What is so powerful about that conversation and connecting with others and talking about money?

Bola:

It is that you are not any form of slave to what society has told you. You are right. You’re not slaves to money. You have freedom and this is what people don’t understand. Even some of my clients, they sometimes get a bit nervous of me and I’m like... because here’s the thing. You have to give your budget at the beginning of the month. That is your end of the bargain. However, if you don’t and you come to me and you say, “Look, this happened this month. I’m going through a tough time with my family.” I am understanding. But the fact that even sometimes my clients don’t feel they have the right to exercise that is a bit of a problem. Because it means that we feel that we are prisoners of our own condition and we don’t have to be.

Brogan:

Yeah. Super powerful. I love that you are empowering so many women to talk about this. Why have you picked women, other than being a woman, as your target demographic? Why do you think women need more help with this stuff?

Bola:

Let’s look at patriarchy. Let’s look at gender pay gap it is... let’s look at feminism, let’s look at intersectional feminism. It is just, there is a myriad of reasons I’ve chosen it, but studying mathematics and finance at university, and gagging for internships at big corporations. And then going there and seeing these big buildings and then looking around and say, “Wow, there isn’t one Black woman here. Wow. There’s two women in the room and there’s a hundred of us?” I say, “This is a problem.” And then I’m like, “I have to go back and tell my community.” Because I do not want to be the token anything. I do not want to be the token woman. I don’t want to be the token Black woman. I want to be the woman who had a rope that tied back or had her arm tied back and said, “Right, let’s bring another one.” And that we bond together to make a positive difference. So we are not in the room enough. And I said, “Let’s be in the room. And then let’s build a table.”

Brogan:

So store cards and buy now pay later schemes are often marketed at women, I would say. What do you think about those kind of financial products?

Bola:

I believe they prey on people’s financial illiteracy. I think for so long people have been preying on people’s ignorance and it is wrong. And I speak very publicly about those companies on social media, they send me private emails saying, “Hey, we understand you’re upset. Let’s tell you about how it works.” And I say, “How dare you? I am an educated Black woman. How absolutely dare you.” I know what’s happening and it’s not okay. This is how, elderly people are being tricked out of their pension. People are told and cryptocurrency isn’t regulated. So, someone can say, “Hey, look, I’ve just put six grand in Bitcoin. And they’ve told me it’s going to be 60,000 in so, and so years.” And you just think, “Where was the knowledge who was the credible person, where’s the validity behind this?” And now we are using what is about to be an old school form of corporate greed. And we’re trying to take into a new world order, but whatever the new world order is, I think it’s basically saying everybody has to stop being greedy. Everybody has to stop being superior. It is time for equality.

Rachel:

You just spoke about how confusing money is deliberately. So for so many people and how hard it is to understand interest rates, with some of these pay later schemes and things. Do you have any advice or resources that you could recommend to people in terms of improving confidence or literacy around money? Are there any accounts that people should follow? Are there any resources that people should read?

Bola:

The Break Platform by Patricia Bright. If you check out The Eman Effect, he is a financial expert and qualified wealth manager. So he has a great platform. This is all via Instagram, by the way. And Stock Pickers Academy – they’re FCA regulated though, which is fantastic.

Brogan:

In terms of emotional spending, I take your point, it’s a really interesting point that there are lots of different influences and factors at work. We wanted to ask about overspending. Because we’re talking about debt. So I wanted to talk about the temptation to buy things and spend money and why we do so how it makes us feel.

Bola:

Of course, yeah. So I find from myself included and my clients that emotional spending can come as a result of many things. I have thought about doing a masters in financial psychology. One of them is PMS. If we’re keeping it frank, when mother nature arrives, oh my gosh, I do not want to clean. I do not want to cook. I don’t want to speak to anybody. Emotional spending is having a hard day at work and then walking past one of your favourite retailers and just saying, “Oh my gosh, thank God for contactless.” There are levels to emotional spending and it’s very dependent on as well your upbringing, also your current circumstance. If you are currently living at home, where you’re not happy with, is it that you want to in some form or another escape and live somewhere else? There are so many levels to emotional spending and it’s very dependent on your current circumstance and I guess your history and all your life lessons and what has made you, who you are today.

Rachel:

You mentioned there having an emergency fund: it made me think about that whole idea of a ‘fuck it’ fund, which I massively prescribe to. I don’t know if you speak about that with the women you work with at all, but for anyone listening who doesn’t know what the hell I’m on about: a fuck it fund is basically spare money that you have by your side. If you’re ever like, “Fuck, I need to get out of this situation.” It could be a shitty house share, a shitty job, a horrible relationship. Any of those things, you need a fuck it fund. But of course, if you’re in debt, that is one of those things that is stopping you from getting that right. So is that something you talk to women about and how can you get that? Get that blanket if you don’t have it.

Bola:

Yeah. So I would definitely say when somebody has an emergency fund, but they are or wants an emergency fund, then they’re also in debt. It’s about creating ratios, creating percentages where you split it, just like a pie chart. I’d like to keep things very simple. And I say, even with debts, you have to look at urgent debts, first non-urgent debts, right? What comes first? And then maybe you can just build a small buffer of an emergency fund. So maybe you can put 5% of your income from an into an emergency fund, but make sure you’re getting the best rate of interest. But then you look at your debt for example, and then you just say, “Okay, well let me put, I don’t know, 15% into it.” So that’s 10% more, but that means I pay it off faster. So I make people create debt repayment plans. I’m somewhat of a financial artist. I’m like, “You draw me the picture you want to envision and I will help you get started.” And then, you finish it off.

Rachel:

And do you have any tips for dealing with money and debt in a new relationship as well from a wellness perspective? Do you bring that up straight away? How do you bring that up? Is there anything like that you can help us with?

Bola:

Well, it depends on the type of relationship you want with the person. Because if it’s like, “I don’t see a long term future with you and I’m just having fun during quarantine.” I call them quarantine baes. I’m literally just like, “Look, you have no business knowing my business.” But if you see a long time with them, it’s important you start having these discussions and say, “Look this is where I’m currently at. This is my situation.” I think it’s important to make it clear that when you are making a statement, ask yourself if there’s anything you need from that statement from the other person. So, you say, do you let them know? I would really appreciate your assistance on this and assistance doesn’t have to be financial assistance. It could be professional assistance. Maybe they’re fantastic with the graphs or they’re fantastic with Excel. But in order to include someone in your personal finances, it means that you include them in your personal life, to which extent is completely up to you. So if I’m dating someone and it’s three months and I have a bit of debt left, I might tell you I might not. But if I want to share my life with you, then I would like to let you know.

Brogan:

It’s such a good point. It’s such a relief. I think when people...so I was saying earlier that I was in... I’ve just got out of the credit card debt.

Bola:

Congratulations.

Brogan:

Thank you.

Bola:

It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal.

Brogan:

I’m proud. Thanks. I feel like I’ve gone red.

Rachel:

It’s a good thing. It’s a podcast.

Brogan:

My finance fairy godmother just praised me. Yeah, so I was in debt for ages and I was really embarrassed to talk about it and even – I’ve been with my boyfriend for a couple of years – and it was a while until we both spoke about money and realiaed we’re basically we’re in the same position. And neither of us were telling each other that really, we probably shouldn’t have spent the money that we had. And once we opened up about it, it did take us a while. But once we opened up about it, we were able to check on each other... Not each other’s spending, but maybe sometimes actually we check each other’s spending, check our spending as a couple, encourage each other to pay things back. I felt so much lighter once we’d spoken about it, to be honest, because it was something that I was hiding, I think. It was very freeing. I just wanted to share that.

Rachel:

Well no it’s nice. Because you say you were hiding it, but there’s a lot of shame around it, right? We joke about it, but there’s so much shame. Why do you think we have so much shame about it?

Bola:

It’s ingrained in the culture that we’ve been told is a culture we should accept and that culture is now shifting and changing. We shouldn’t feel ashamed about anything. We talk about sex more than we talk about money. You have to question these things. I don’t get it. And for so long, my quest to understand personal finances has come from a place of scarcity. Why did I not have money to an extent growing up? We never went without food, praise my mom. But I think right now everybody is having a truth moment, whether or not they want to announce it themselves. So I think it’s a cultural thing. It’s such a shame, but this is why we’re here to break the stigma women!

Brogan:

Bola so we ask all of our podcast guests the same question. What makes you uncomfortable?

Bola:

Racism, since the Dawn of time? I have felt discriminated against too. I am born and bred in Brixton, south London. And I say that very proudly. I’ve always called myself Bola is an abbreviation for my full name Abolaji. And sometimes I thought the need to use my English name, which is Anita. There’s been micro-aggressions all my life. There’s been macro-aggressions. And I think we’ve been quiet for so long or we’ve just somewhat... Some of us have accepted it in one form or another. And with the very public killing of George Floyd and I have to shout out to someone who could have been my auntie. Someone could have been my mother. Belly Mujinga is a woman who a member of the public spat in her face. And I believe she was a train driver and she passed away from COVID-19. As a Black woman, I’m tired of racism. I’m tired of any ism.

Rachel:

Thank you for sharing that. That’s a really powerful thing for us to include. Thank you.

Brogan:

Thank you so much Bola.

Bola:

Brilliant no worries. Thank you for having me.

Rachel:

I hope you get some chill time this afternoon. Thank you so much.

Brogan:

Thank you for your time this afternoon.

Bola:

Thank you. Yeah, definitely take care. Bye.

Rachel:

Take care bye.

Testimony 3:

Being really poor growing up meant that when I finally started to earn my own money, I was really frugal but then I realised that spending money on myself was self-soothing. So I went so crazily into debt and had no idea how much debt I was in, until I decided that the agony of the sleepless nights wasn’t worth it anymore. So I went on a course, came back home, finally opened all the envelopes, then opted into being poor for as long as it took to pay it all off. I’ve not been in debt since, unless you count mortgages and I won’t be getting into debt again.

Testimony 4:

When I was on maternity leave and when it was time to go back to work I realised that I couldn’t afford it Between exorbitant nursery fees and overpriced train fares, I would have taken home just over £100 a month and spent less than an hour a day with my baby. So I took £10,000 out of our savings account, took out £20,000 loan and bought a franchise. It didn’t start well and only got worse. Not only was I not making any money but soon after starting the business I had to find £1500 a month to cover my overheads. Then Covid-19 happened. I couldn’t trade, I wasn’t eligible for a loan, I couldn’t sell it, I couldn’t afford to keep it going and I certainly couldn’t afford financially or emotionally to start from scratch when it wouldn’t be possible again. So I terminated the franchise agreement and closed the company. Today I find myself having lost over £40,000, £20,000 of which I still need to pay back over the next four years.

Rachel:

Now we’re joined by Josie Warner senior research and insight officer at Debt Charity StepChange, which is the UK’s largest provider of free debt advice. So Josie could you explain for those listeners who haven’t heard of StepChange before what the charity does and who it’s aimed at?

Josie Warner:

So we work with people across the UK who are experiencing problem debt. So we provide free tailored debt advice to those people. So either over the telephone or online, and we also help people find recommendations for their debt problems. So there’s a range of different solutions that people can take. So we have a team of close to a thousand advisors who provide tailored advice to people struggling with financial difficulty.

Rachel:

The statistics around women and debt are pretty sobering. And we know that it’s a really prevalent problem and 60% or over 60% of StepChange’s clients are women. Why are women so disproportionately affected by debt? What are some of the key reasons why women end up in these situations?

Josie:

I think there are two different elements to this. So I think there are environmental and economically environmental reasons. So this is things like the gender pay gap. Women are more likely to have caring responsibilities of family members or children. Women are more likely to be in secure work. So that includes zero hours contracts and things like that, and that just makes the wider environment for women economically really tricky to navigate through. And then often women kind of in financial difficulty, or even before financial difficulty, are impacted by what we call life events. So this is things like relationship breakdown, experiencing unemployment or redundancy or experiencing a new illness or injury. If you couple those two things together, it makes it really difficult for women to just work through their financial situations and it can make financial situations really tricky.

Brogan:

In terms of spending, are women more susceptible to spending more or - because it feels like there are these buy now pay later schemes that are marketed at women and a lot of various shopping things that are marketed at women.

Josie:

I don’t think necessarily women are more likely to overspend actually it’s a bit of a myth that goes on there. I think with buy now-pay later, it’s interesting. I’ve seen over the last year, you see a lot of advertising for those things like Instagram, for example. And it’s just about making women aware of the risks that are associated with using those kind of credit payment. But in our stats, so this is for people in problem debt, we find with women they’re less likely to have higher credit debt. So men are more likely to have higher debts on credit cards and other credit products, but women are more likely to be behind on household bills. So more likely to build up arrears on things like the heating, electricity, council tax, things like that. So it’s an interesting point and we speak about it quite a lot and it’s important for us as women to talk about, budgeting and spending. But it is a bit of a myth that goes on that women fall into financial difficulty because of problems with spending. I think there’s as we were talking about before, there’s a lot of other factors that come into play with women and their finances.

Rachel:

So StepChange obviously focus on people in problem debt: that is a lot of your clients. What kind of impact does that debt have on the people that you work with? Particularly women.

Josie:

The debt has a huge effect. And the thing is it extends way beyond just someone’s financial situation. There’s a lot of research out there about the experience of debt on women. It really impacts their mental health, for example, and really feed into many other areas of their lives. So it can cause an awful lot of stress. We have a lot of cases of women telling us about how debt just keeps them up at night because they worry so much. Debt can be a really harmful situation and experience for someone to go through.

Brogan:

Could you for our listeners define what you mean by problem debt and what’s maybe perhaps some of the different types of debt?

Josie:

Problem debt is where it’s, where debt starts to feel like it’s a really heavy burden. And as I was saying before starts to really impact on other areas of your life. So if you’re finding that keeping up with commitments like credit commitments are a real struggle, you’re just not able to keep up with the repayments on a regular basis. If you find that you’re falling behind on different bill types, or it’s just generally you feel like your financial situation is just really impacting on you. That is what we would classify as problem debt.

Brogan:

So you’re a policy advisor, right now what are the most pressing issues that you’re dealing with and how are you trying to advise your clients?

Josie:

So I work in the research policy and public affairs team. So we do everything from evidencing, collecting evidence and data right through to influencing government and regulators and other organisations about what we think needs to happen to change. As you can imagine, Coronavirus has kind of shifted everything, just trying to make sure that people who are at real risk of financial difficulty and people who may have already fallen into financial difficulty are getting the support that they need. And then further down the line that support really continues.

Brogan:

What would you like to see the government doing to help people who’ve been really hit financially by lockdown and by the pandemic in general?

Josie:

Firstly preventing people or protecting people from unaffordable repayments, for example, evictions. A lot of our clients in problem debt rent in the private rented sector and evictions are a real worry for us further down the line. There’s an eviction ban at the moment, but we’re just worried about what’s going to happen after that. We’re also looking to make sure that people are provided with grants and things for when they most need it. So there are people and there’s people coming through to debt advice. For example, other stats are showing really alarming rates of food bank use. And other things. So we just want to make sure that people have the grants and the income support that they need in order to cope financially. And then also we’re looking at universal credit. That seems like it’s the form of support that’s the most forefront, for politicians. So I think there’s steps that can be taken to improve universal credit. So for example, once someone starts getting paid universal credit money is deducted for certain things. So for example, advanced payments that happened when there was a five week wait between applying and, then receiving payments. So yeah, deductions. So we want deductions to be overhauled and to be suspended and looked at.

Brogan:

Do you have advice for listeners? What’s the first steps with reaching out for advice with your charity.

Josie:

So if people do need support, they can contact us online. So we have an online debt advice tool. So if you don’t want to talk to anyone, then you can go through that anonymously. We also have telephone advice, which also is anonymous - the advisor will take you through the advice and they’ll go through all of your income and monthly expenditure and your debts and your arrears and look at what solution may be best for you. So you can either contact us online or over the telephone. And we’re open six days a week.

Rachel:

So you mentioned that a lot of your services are anonymised, so people can get in touch digitally or over the phone, and they don’t have to give their name or lots of personal details and things like that. Why have you as a charity decided to do that? So we were talking earlier about the shame that comes around debt and embarrassment and things like that. Is that something you encounter?

Josie:

So people can get in touch with the charity, either over the telephone or online. So if you contact us online, you don’t need to speak to an advisor it’s completely anonymous. So for a lot of people, it’s quite difficult to talk about financial problems. So for those people, I think online debt advice is a really good option. Our advisors over the telephone, they’re really supportive, nonjudgmental. We’ll give kind of the best advice that’s tailored to you.

Rachel:

So Josie, we have a question that we ask every guest who comes on to our podcast and that is what makes you uncomfortable.

Josie:

Can I give two answers? So one, I’d say on the debt stuff, we touched on it a little bit already, but the taboo around debt makes me really uncomfortable. I’m someone who works for a debt advice charity, so I’m more comfortable than most talking about debt, but I try and bring it up with some of my friends sometimes, and it’s really awkward. And I guess that’s why we’re talking about it today. So, yeah. I think the more we can do to get rid of the stigma and shame and embarrassment around debt, which it doesn’t need to be, it affects so many people as we’ve already discussed. Yeah, but to be around it makes me quite uncomfortable. Outside of that, I was thinking about this. What’s made me really uncomfortable - I’m downstairs at the moment because I’m trying to be closer to the router, so I don’t lose you. But I’ve been working out of my bedroom mostly and I’m just quite aware that all of my colleagues and external people that I speak to on a regular basis are just seeing my bedroom - it’s really bizarre.

Rachel:

So strange.

Josie:

It’s just not something you would you’d ever imagined, but yeah, it’s just like there and it’s like, “Yeah, this is my bedroom.”

Rachel:

So intrusive, isn’t it?

Josie:

It is really intrusive. But there’s no way around it. So yeah, I’d say that’s something that’s been making me feel quite uncomfortable. The last couple of months.

Brogan:

Yeah it is a very surreal part of working from home life.

Rachel:

Definitely.

Brogan:

Okay. Thank you so much for joining us. That was so interesting and informative. Lots to think about, and it’d be really helpful for listeners as well.

Rachel:

Yeah. Thank you.

Josie:

Thank you so much for having me and inviting me on, it was great to talk to you guys.

Rachel:

If you’ve listened to this episode and you’re worried about debt and you need some advice or some help, there are organisations out there who will listen and will support you and you can find StepChange at stepchange.org and their advice line is 0800 138 1111. And if you’d like some mental health support to do with money, Mind is just one of the really great charities out there that you can contact. You’ll find them online at mind.org.uk or you can ring the Mind support helpline on 0300 123 3393.

That’s it this week from, Am I Making You Uncomfortable? Please subscribe to our podcast and review it. I’m Rachel Moss. And you can find me on Twitter @rachelmoss_

Brogan:

And I’m Brogan Driscoll, and you can find me @Brogan_Driscoll. Thank you to our producer, Chrystal Genesis, our assistant producer, Rachel Porter and our sound engineer Nag Kirinde.

Rachel:

You’ve just been listening to Am I Making You Uncomfortable? #AIMYU.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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