Too many women continue to rely on men to manage their finances, and can come unstuck if their partner doesn’t play fair. Katherine, from Wales, only realised the danger when her husband deserted her, leaving behind only debt.
Katherine, now 56, was married for 28 years with three children, plus another from an earlier marriage.
She had worked as a successful fashion stylist with David Bailey among others, enjoyed a solid middle-class life with children at private school, and all seemed well. “I had never borrowed money in my life, even from my mother,” she said.
Katherine made one big financial mistake, though. Like many women, she had let her partner manage all the finances, and he took everything. “He even sold our cars and kept the cash.”
The only thing in her name was a credit card – which her husband had used to rack up thousands of pounds of debt that she had to service.
She was in shock. “Suddenly I was cut adrift with no support. I had no income and savings. I contacted everyone I knew to find odd jobs such as cleaning just to get £10 to feed my kids.”
Katherine was forced to scrape by on universal credit topped up with earnings of around £100 a week. “That doesn’t stretch far when you’re a single parent with four children to support.”
Life on the other side of the tracks was an eye opener. “Nobody realises how hard it is to escape poverty, until they get trapped themselves.”
Her thoughts turned morbid. “I thought about ending everything, just to make it stop, but carried on for the sake of my kids. Their father had left them, I didn’t want their mother to leave them, too.”
As debts piled up the family was forced to use food banks just to eat. Then a friend suggested Katherine got in touch with StepChange Debt Charity.
She was reluctant at first. “I was in a really dark place and didn’t think anyone could understand or help.”
Happily, she was wrong. “Everyone at StepChange was kind, calm, clear and understanding. They wrote letters to my creditors and put me on a debt management plan, which I’ve been on for five years now. Slowly, I’ve been getting back on my feet.”
Katherine is keen for people to know that if they hit rock bottom, too, there is free support out there.
“It’s not just the financial help, it’s the fact that you know someone out there has your back. I can’t tell you how much of a difference StepChange has made to my life.”
StepChange is one of a handful of debt charities that offer their services free of charge, along with Citizens Advice and National Debtline.
Head of media Sue Anderson said rising energy and food bills, combined with the pressures of the festive season, are already forcing more families into debt. “We’d like to see the Government do more to prevent families from going cold, hungry or losing their homes.”
Anderson added: “If you are lying awake at night wondering about repayments then visit StepChange.org or call us on 0800 138 1111.”
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There is a lot of free impartial debt advice out there, said Caroline Siarkiewicz, chief executive at the government-funded Money and Pensions Service. “Visit our free Debt Advice Locator Tool at MoneyHelper.org.uk to see what’s available.”
Siarkiewicz said almost two thirds of site users with debts are reducing or clearing them within three to six months of receiving impartial advice.
Beware debt management companies who charge a fee, though, as they will only make your problems worse.
Katherine, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is now rebuilding her life. “My children are mostly grown up but we’re all very close as a result of everything we have been through.”
She can’t wait to become debt free and move on with her life. “I can’t thank StepChange enough for their help and support. They genuinely save lives.”