One Monday in February, working families learned that in spite of their hard graft to make ends meet, those in retirement were better off than they were: “Pensioner households are now £20 a week better off than working age households, but were £70 a week worse off in 2001.”
On the same day, the BBC’s deconstruction of this same report highlighted that pensioners are better off *only* when you have accounted for housing costs. It went some way to making the headlines more palatable; it makes perfect sense that those who are of working age have high housing costs so in net terms are not doing quite so well as those who, having grafted for so long, now have low (or no) housing costs.
But, by Friday of the same week, we learned the burden of debt (debt which, surely, will just never get paid off) is growing for those in old age: “One in four people planning to retire this year will still have a mortgage or other debts to pay off and will typically owe about £24,000.”
Looking at the data we hold at TDX Group on the demographics of those entering personal insolvency (those in the most desperate financial troubles) I found out:
More pensioners are finding themselves in financial difficulty.
Since 2010, pensioners have continued to only be a small proportion of those entering personal insolvency – but it has doubled from 3% in 2010 to 6% in 2016. I’m no statistician – but that feels significant to me.
Pensioners’ income isn’t growing – they are just exposed to less economic volatility than those of working age.
Looking at the income levels of this same group – it’s not that their income has outstripped those in work – it’s just dropped less. For those pensioners entering personal insolvency compared to those who are in work – their income has been relatively static, dropping by c£50 (3.4%) from 2010 to 2016, compared to a drop of c£300 (13.4%) in those under the age of retirement.
Pensioners in financial difficulty owe more than those of working age.
Pensioners entering insolvency have more unsecured debt than those of working age – and the difference is growing. In 2014 and 2015, there was only about £1000 difference between the amount owed by these two groups; in 2016 it was £5000.
And I’m sure that if you dig into another layer of data and information you could come up with another set of statements that could be just as complementary or contradictory.
Looking at all the headlines and our own data at TDX Group, I’m left with two overriding feelings. Firstly, it feels wrong that pensioners (who have fewer options to get themselves out of financial difficulty than those of us of working age) are increasingly finding themselves struggling with debt. Then, thinking more broadly, my overall conclusion is that it just goes to show how careful you have to be to understand someone’s financial circumstances in the round. Getting this holistic view has been a perennial problem for our industry and one that we just haven’t cracked yet. In theory, this is overcome by gathering Income and Expenditure information – but because I&Es are conducted and held by individual companies, as a process it can be repetitive and painful for consumers. And at what point does all this information get pieced back together so those of us involved in this industry can take responsibility for proactive responsible customer management, taking supportive action before individuals (no matter what age) run into financial difficulty so they’re not left with unmanageable debt in their old age?