Recent research conducted by GWCU and University of Bristol highlights the financial lives of mothers and barriers to their financial resilience to develop solutions.
Mothers are often primarily responsible for managing the household budget on limited resources. This leaves them at higher risk of poverty and less likely to have financial buffers such as savings, insurance or affordable credit. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), increasing inflation is now adding to the pressure for parents and a recent financial tracker found that 37% of single parents were in serious difficulties with their finances. The question of how to help low-income mothers build up financial resilience to better buffer and adapt to financial and economic shocks, especially during the cost of living crisis, has thus become even more urgent.
In response, Great Western Credit Union (GWCU) recently teamed up with the University of Bristol to conduct research as a way of understanding the financial lives of mothers. The study took place from May - October 2022, as community researchers led in-depth interviews with 16 mothers from different backgrounds in Bristol to discuss income, expenses and strategies as well as their worries and hopes for the future.
The research found that most respondents receive more than one source of income, whether through multiple jobs, tax credits, or the support of their family; which could imply flexibility or that no one source is sufficient. With often insufficient or volatile incomes and rising expenses, mothers adhere to strict budgeting to manage finances, prioritising bills and housing expenses and keeping a close eye on anything else. Most are more likely to only use credit cards for everyday emergencies or extra security and avoid the use of loans except for larger purchases. Despite tight budgets, most deem savings as important, particularly to cover their children’s needs.
Motivations for mothers include being role models and wanting to see their children succeed, however, this responsibility can also be a source of worry and stress. A lack of access to affordable and convenient childcare is considered a major barrier for many gaining more income. Also, most mothers assume the responsibility of childcare, children’s expenses and the financial impact of having children, which is based on implicit assumptions around responsibilities, roles and expenses within partnerships. Community and family are a major source of support, though this creates issues for those that don’t have a strong family network. See the full report here.
James Berry, CEO of Great Western Credit Union, said:
“These are unprecedented times, and these findings help to spotlight the financial situation of many women across our region. Mothers make up a significant proportion of our membership and so we must understand their struggles and goals to ensure that we’re supporting them in the best way possible. We are helping to build financial resilience with tens of thousands of people in the South West, so if you need a place to save or borrow, Great Western Credit Union is here for you.”
Anne Angsten Clark, from the University of Bristol, added:
“The research highlights the often-hidden work and effort mothers put into managing household finances and childcare on a tight budget within a system that isn’t designed for their needs and priorities. As one of the community researchers put it: “Society makes it out as if men are managing everything, but it’s actually Mums. They’re doing it all.” We can help change that by putting a spotlight on the role mothers play in providing and managing finances for their families and designing financial services and policy that acknowledges that.”
As a result of the research, GWCU are now working on further initiatives to help mothers take steps to achieve these goals, including:
- Build on GWCU’s position as a partner to mothers and show how the institution values and makes mothers the focus of its activities.
- Encourage safe and honest conversations about finance between mothers, between mothers and their partners, and between mothers and organisations that can support them such as GWCU.
- Support mothers to save for their goals both in the present and the future.
Other ideas that are being considered include creating an online mum’s hub that could include advice from mothers for mothers, stories from GWCU mothers, information about GWCU services for mothers and in-person advice available, training for mothers to become “money mates” to each other and tools to get conversations about money started, and opportunities to get involved with GWCU activities and shape strategy.
GWCU are also looking at developing parent-oriented savings products such as savings jars for parents that help for saving up for specific events (e.g. birthdays, Christmas, school start) as well as longer-term goals, opportunities to sign up for automated savings from child benefit (a product that already exists for loans through the GWCU Family Finance Plan), and accounts that combine short-term emergency saving and longer-term savings. And lastly, financial planning and products to help parents plan for parental leave such as 1:1 appointments to discuss budgeting, savings plans and interest-free loans are being looked at as GWCU gears up for a new year that will continue to see the ongoing effects of the Cost of Living crisis.