Employers need to support staff as UK debt levels and interest rates rise, research warns
New research commissioned by Gallagher, an insurance brokerage, risk management, and consulting services, reveals the stark reality of the UK spiraling towards a national debt crisis. Over a quarter of UK adults (26%) can’t afford to pay their debt payments some months or at all. The bleakest numbers are for the under 35s, with 39% unable to pay some months, and in London, where a third (30%) are unable to pay off some of their debts.
It’s therefore unsurprising that over two-thirds (67%) of UK adults admitted to being concerned about their finances – with 8% having to use loans, overdrafts or credit cards to make ends meet, and 19% depleting their savings to do so. On the other side, are people either sleep walking into this potential issue or have some been able to prepare themselves financially to weather the storm?
Alarmingly, the top concern (23%) over the next six months is that people won’t be able to switch their heating on this winter or pay their energy bills. This could mean that thousands more will end up even further in the red, but this time with their energy provider.
Top worries for the nation
Switching the heating on this winter isn’t the only worry – 11% are concerned about not being able to have new experiences, including going on holiday and trips. This is followed by not being able to afford to pay off debts or fuel (both 6% respectively). Whilst holidays are often seen as a luxury, due to the last two years of uncertainty created by Covid-19, it’s anticipated that people were looking forward to creating new memories with their loved ones this year.
Additional key findings
- If UK adults were to receive an unexpected bill of £500, the most common way to pay for it would be to dip into their savings (31%), followed by a similar proportion who would use available funds in their bank account (30%). Whilst others would need to go into debt and put it onto a credit card, or use their overdraft (12%), borrow the money from family or friends (9%) or have no means at all to be able to pay the bill (8%).
- 16% of Londoners would need to go into debt by using a credit card or by going into their overdraft, if they had an unexpected bill.
- 71% of females (vs 63% of men), and 74% of both those aged 18-34 and 35-54 respectively, are concerned about their finances.
- Unsurprisingly, with the cost of living in the Capital, Londoners are the most concerned (76%) when it comes to worrying about their finances.
- Men are less worried about the upcoming six months then women (36% vs 45%).
Alistair Dornan, Director, People Experience at Gallagher, said: “We only have to turn on the news to be hit with the stark realisation of the cost-of-living crisis hitting those living in the UK at the moment. But, as our survey shows, there is another crisis looming – a national debt crisis. The reality of ‘keeping going’ day-to-day is common nationally and is requiring many to make some hard decisions. For some this involves increasing their debt levels simply to make ends meet.
“Amidst almost a quarter (23%) of UK adults already worrying that they won’t be able to switch their heating on this winter or pay their energy bills, and with only two months to go until most people will need to switch their heating on due to colder weather – energy prices are set to rocket the same month. Add to this the fact that interest rates rising is increasing the cost of borrowing and the UK is facing a real winter of despair. As all of these issues are adding to people’s stress and anxiety, it’s more important than ever that companies provide employees with the right support and advice to help them manage their financial health needs.”
Dornan concluded: “Although many organisations already provide a range of money saving benefits for their people, there are other ways they can help to alleviate the stress and worry facing employees who are concerned about debt and their personal finances. Financial wellbeing is ultimately about employees feeling that they have confidence, control and capacity in their finances. Firms providing money saving benefits and practical tools to support their people – while communicating them effectively – will help employees through the cost-of-living crisis and those struggling with debt.”
Recognising that inflation-busting pay rises are simply not possible for most companies – below are five practical, low-cost ideas that employers should consider implementing:
- Signpost employees to free debt support and advice. The best solution for debt support is to have an Employee Assistant Plan in place, but in the absence of one, there are a number of credible, free-to-use debt support services available, such as StepChange and The National Debt Helpline. These organisations provide advice and assistance and can liaise directly with creditors on behalf of the employee. Therefore signposting these services via your internal communications, can help stop employees feeling overwhelmed and stressed if they are worried about debt. This in turn will benefit the company as well, as issues with stress and money worries understandably can affect an individual’s effectiveness at work.
- Boost employee benefits communications. Employees can often save £100s by making the most of the money saving benefits on offer to them, but are often not aware of what is available to them or how to access them. The rule of thumb when it comes to messaging is that however much you are doing it, it’s probably not enough. Initiatives such as delivering financial education drop-ins, money saving webinars and regular communications around ‘how to save money’ rather than ‘employees benefits’, can help firms deliver their messages in a more relevant way.
- Offer new money saving benefits. Organisations should review the use of existing benefits to ensure that they are effective and replace them with more relevant solutions if not. There are some great new money savings benefits available that are convenient to use, such as the bYond card, a reloadable debit card that can be used in a range of retailers giving up to 15% cashback on spending. This will provide significant help to those who are struggling with debt and financial problems.
- Review expenses policy. Companies should review their policies and communications around expenses and tax efficiency – to ensure that the range of allowances are in line with the current cost of living and employees are aware and making the most of what is available to them. For example, mileage allowances may need updating to reflect the current fuel costs, and home support allowances could be considered to assist employees with the costs of working from home – which could be critical during the winter months when homes need heating during the day.
- Stress management. Financial stress can have a massive impact on mental and physical health. If employees are feeling stressed out and anxious, undoubtedly this is going to impact productivity. Help employees to make keeping active a top priority – encourage them to go for a walk at lunchtime, promote free meditation apps designed to help combat stress and consider offering discounted memberships to fitness facilities.