Traditionally debt has been seen as mainly a concern for younger people with older people more likely to believe you should ‘cut your coat according to your cloth’ and save up for items rather than use credit. However there have been media reports suggesting this may be changing with headlines such as ‘Debt crisis for the over 60s’, and some information and advice services are reporting more older people seeking help with debts.
At Age UK we wanted to find out more about the extent and level of debt in later life and whether this has changed over time. So we commissioned the independent think tank International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) to carry out a detailed analysis looking at debt among people in later life.
The research confirms that among those aged 50, the older they are, the more negative their views towards credit and debt. However there isn’t always a stark difference between opinions – more than four out of five people of all ages, feel credit encourages people to spend more than they can afford.
Around a quarter of people over 50 had unsecured debt in 2010 and this has fallen since 2002 (this is based on a survey covering England). However worryingly among those who did have debts, the amount owed had increased, and overall the proportion of people in what ILC-UK define as ‘problem debt’ has remained pretty steady at around 6 per cent. Among those aged 50 and over the likelihood of being in problem debt reduces with age but even so one in fifty people in their 70s have problem debt. And for a 75 year old living on a fixed income this can be an extremely difficult situation.
However there is help available and Age UK and other organisations can provide information and support. And along with tackling debt, we need to do all we can to prevent problems arising in the first place. This includes working with the financial services industry around ensuring money is lent appropriately, encouraging people to seek support before money difficulties turn into problem debt, and ensuring that older people do not end up owing money as a result of scams and rogue traders.