Drowning in Debt


First let me say that this post is longer than the normal post on Olderhood. So bear with us please, because this is important – and disturbing – data, independently gathered by Citizens Advice Bureau, Scotland (see footnote). The surveys were done a couple of years back but are certainly not dated.

We have full permission from CAB to publish their findings and comment thereon.

Let me further say at the outset that the report, while taken within the UK is unquestionably comparative to our research on the same issues around the world. In other words, the demographics of this study reflect the demographics globally.

We will take their FIVE major findings (shown in italics below) in sequence, and provide Olderhood commentary thereon one by one.

Ok, introduction comments over.

1.            Broadly, levels of debt increase with age, but incomes reduce. This results

in the over 60 age group having less opportunity to repay their debts as

opportunities to increase their income are unlikely to materialize

Olderhood comments :-

There are several responses/comments to this.

First, as we have discussed in Olderhood in various articles thus far, the opportunity to earn reduces with retirement. For those who planned for retirement and managed their funds appropriately, their passive income (e.g. from investments) will be considerably greater than any active income (e.g. from employment). Furthermore, if the passive income has been calculated correctly, then it should probably cover their debt servicing.

If debts cannot be serviced, then the knock-on effect can easily result in a reduction in daily requirements e.g. food, utilities, medicine and so forth. Unless there is a family to support, or a government-supported mechanism to provide essentials, or some charitable organisation to provide, the impact can be devastating.

2.            Older people are less likely than other age groups to blame money

mismanagement as a reason for their financial difficulties. Those in the

lower income groups, including those over 60, identified low income as

the main reason for their financial difficulties, similar to findings two

years ago

Olderhood comments :-

The realization that one has mis-managed their financial affairs is not an easy one to admit. This is not just confined to the Oldsters amongst us – very few younger, in-employment people would admit that either. Having said that, this finding, speaks to the simple fact that there are large sections of our community who, in their earning years, simply did not have high enough incomes to subsist plus save for retirement. It is all very well for pundits to say “You must save more for retirement” – but in many, many instances, that is just not do-able.

3.            This client group had fewer coping mechanisms available to them than

other age groups. In particular, similar to our findings two years ago,

those over 60 were least likely to borrow from family and friends (12%

compared with 43% of those aged under 40)

Olderhood comments :-

This is a real dilemma for many old people. If they cannot service their debt, far less pay it off, then the trauma can be very real. The word “pride” also jumps to mind, and without doubt there is a “steeliness” about us Oldsters about seeking financial assistance. Whether that is due to us thinking that, by this age, we should be entirely self-sufficient, or just pure embarrassment, it’s not always clear. There is also the fear that if we don’t settle our debts before we leave this world, then we leave them to family in some way or another, either through them having to pay them, or for them to receive less in inheritance. In any event it is a daily concern of those who carry debts.

4.            Despite their low incomes, the over 60 age group were less likely to have

a utilities debt than other CAB debt clients – only 10%, compared with

37% of those aged under 25

Olderhood comments :-

At first glance, this point seems minor. It isn’t. It is a survival statistic. The under 25 group will have a notion that they can fight the big utility company one way or another and not be concerned about late payments, or even no payments – the notion is supported by their belief that they can survive being cut off for electricity, or water etc. “I’ll get through” syndrome. On the other hand, the older folks have worked out that without heat and power, especially of course in the cold months of the year, their chances of survival are probably low.

The point is also a reflection of the older person’s recognition that if the debt won’t disappear, then it certainly won’t get resolved if they expire before the debt does. The older we get, the more we understand that life becomes increasingly precious and must be preserved at all costs – including its priority over debt.

5.            Older people are under-represented as CAB debt clients compared with

the general population, although this client group has increased slightly

since 2003. Despite their vulnerability, this group may be more reticent

than younger people are about seeking money advice

Olderhood comments :-

This a complex point. As discussed above, the words “pride” and “embarrassment” spring to mind again. That may be true. But there are other factors we think.

The world we live in nowadays is full of confusion and misunderstanding by older folks. There is a hesitancy about going to an agency of some sorts, even a charity, to seek help because it inevitably means that their personal data must be provided, then recorded. This scares people. Once “big brother” has his claws into you, he won’t let go. This fear is so prevalent in older people, that it unquestionably stymies them from seeking help.

In fairness, there are any number of Government agencies or quasi-independent groups, or charities, who bend over backwards to help, but the sad fact is that in many, many instances, their are efforts are simply not convincing enough to convince those who need help. Unfortunate, but true.


This Study adds measurement to the facts of financial life for older people. It is real data, not opinion, per se. There are no easy solutions to debt management within the older community. There is assuredly no panacea.

But, perhaps a better recognition by debt holders, Government or private sector, would be useful. Perhaps more dialogue with point by point solutions within the forums on the Internet or through local Age Concern, CABs, and so forth would be useful. Writing off the debt just because a person is older is certainly not an answer – advice, assistance and understanding in practical terms would be the least, the very least, that society can do to alleviate the trauma of debt, if not the debt itself.

If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions

do not hesitate to share with us.

The Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Service is made up of Citizens Advice Scotland and a network of local citizens advice bureaux.

  • Citizens Advice Scotland      (CAS) is a national umbrella body that provides essential services to      Scottish citizens advice bureaux
  • Citizens advice bureaux are      independent, local charities that are members of Citizens Advice Scotland.      Bureaux provide advice and information to people in need in over 250      locations.

CAB is always looking for Volunteers. If you have some spare time then contact them online.

One response to “Drowning in Debt

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