Research from the charity said women are at the sharp end in Scotland.
Women are more likely to have energy debt, pay more on household essentials and have been disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis, a new report has revealed.
Research by debt charity StepChange, Bearing the Burden, looks at how the gendered picture of debt differs, exploring why women are more vulnerable to financial difficulty, a situation which has been exacerbated by the rising cost of living.
The data shows women are struggling more to keep up with household essentials and bear a greater responsibility for these costs.
Over half (51%) of women seeking support from StepChange Scotland are in arrears with their energy bills, this compares to two fifths (40%) of men. Among clients with energy debt, the average arrears amount for women is £1,736, which is £216 higher than for men.
Women’s food expenditure is 12% higher than men’s, as they spend on average £326 on food, compared to men’s average food bill of £291.
Vikki Brownridge, CEO at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “We’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that sky-high inflation has had on our clients, but it’s clear that some groups have been particularly vulnerable to this crisis.
“Systemic issues like the gender pay gap, high childcare costs and barriers to work, combined with the increasing cost of basics are affecting women’s ability to make ends meet and build financial resilience.
“The UK Government’s cost of living support over the past two years, alongside the Scottish Government's focus on priority households and ambitious targets to address child poverty have been welcome, but this research highlights there’s clearly still a shortfall between welfare support and living costs.
“This shortfall is leading to women having higher amounts of household debt and there is growing vulnerability within single-adult households. Policy makers must ensure that further interventions to support households with the cost of living consider women’s vulnerability to debt, taking targeted steps to address financial inequalities.”
While women have always been overrepresented among StepChange Scotland’s client base, the research, which analyses client data for the first half of 2023, finds that women make up 62% of StepChange Scotland clients, up from 60% in 2022.
Since the outset of 2022, more and more clients seeking help from StepChange Scotland have cited the cost of living increase as their main reason for debt, which is a shift from previous years in which clients tended to cite a change in personal circumstances which led to a loss of income.
Among women, 13% in 2022 said an increase in the cost of living was the driver of their debt problems, which has more than doubled to a staggering 28% in 2023.
More men have also been citing the rise in prices as the cause of their debt, albeit with a less steep jump from 11% in 2022 to 20% in 2023.
The charity is concerned that the disproportionate impact that the cost of living crisis is having on its women clients will only worsen if policy makers don’t address some of the specific challenges women face.