Gracie Rogers is in her final year at the University of Birmingham studying English Literature and says her third year has “been a nightmare” because of financial pressures.
Finding it nearly impossible to afford her rent, she’s been “eating rubbish” to save money and is considering leaving the city to move back home to finish her degree.
“I have been lucky enough to receive some financial support from my Gran,” the 20-year-old said. “But I feel tremendously guilty taking money from her.”
With the arrival of the colder months, millions of people all over the UK are once again preparing for a winter in the ever-continuing cost of living crisis. Grace isn’t the only one grappling with the rising cost of, well, everything. The price of fuel, food, rent, mortgages, electricity and gas are still significantly high, leaving people feeling their salaries only cover the bare minimum essentials.
For young women in particular, the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll. In 2023, a survey from the charity Young Women’s Trust found that nearly 56% of young women say their finances have gotten worse over the last 12 months, compared to 40% of young men. Compared to 2022 when 49% of young women and 40% of young men said the same, this shows a significant gap forming between the two.
“We have started to see a widening gulf between young women’s and young men’s financial stability,” Claire Reindorp, Chief Executive at Young Women’s Trust, told Refinery29.
Additionally, over three fifths of young women said they struggled to make their cash last to the end of the month, with 31 percent of young women saying they would be likely to be forced into debt.
Hoping to become a journalist, Gracie is working as a part-time freelance journalist to get experience and boost her income. “I applied for lots of paid copywriting gigs on LinkedIn, but on seven separate occasions, I was messaged by the employers asking me to meet for a drink, alone or with their ‘friends’, promising to schedule an interview call later down the line,” she said. “This felt immensely threatening, so I abandoned this approach.”
Gracie said there isn’t a day that goes by she isn’t worried about her finances.
“Rather than spending time working on my dissertation, I am stuck trying to find employment opportunities, researching hardship funds, writing budgets for the year and attempting to plan ways to afford rent,” she said. “I have an existing anxiety disorder, and these financial concerns are only exacerbating the side effects like nausea, heart palpitations, breathlessness, poor skin, and hair loss. To feel this worried, all day every day, is exhausting.”
Izy, who has asked for only her first name to be used, has moved 12 times over the past year, desperately trying to find housing on a part-time salary in the middle of the ever-continuing cost of living crisis. “This has been a particularly tough year,” the 34-year-old told Refinery29, speaking of her finances in 2023.
During her housing search, Izy spoke to rental agencies and found if she didn’t meet the criteria of earning 30 times the monthly rental figure, agencies required a guarantor earning 36 times the monthly rental figure. Or she would be required to pay six months rent upfront. With herself and her partner both being self-employed, and without the ‘bank of mum and dad’, Izy didn’t meet criteria.
For the last 12 months, Izy has stayed with family and friends for short periods of time, rented Airbnbs, house sat, and secured a 10 week short-term let before finally moving into a one-bed rented annex this summer.
Unable to take on more full-time, permanent work due to her endometriosis and fatigue, Izy feels she is at a disadvantage when it comes to securing housing. She’s now moved back to her hometown of Cornwall, saying London has become a “city for the elite.” Just to cover her basic costs, Izy has taken on additional work as a part-time cleaner and yoga teacher alongside her work as a freelance editor.
“You just go into survival mode,” she said.
Young Women’s Trust frequently hear from young women who are making “inhuman choices just to get by.”
“They’re taking on debts they can’t afford to pay back, staying in unhealthy relationships because they can’t afford to leave, and living apart from loved ones as they can’t afford the rent,” said Reindorp.
Over a third of young women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said their hopes for the future have gotten worse, and 40 percent described their mental health having deteriorated over the last 12 months.
“Many young women are having to use all their talents and creativity on just getting by and surviving, rather than setting themselves up for the future,” said Reindorp.
Even though some young women don’t necessarily feel they are “scraping by”, many feel anywhere from a low-grade to intense feeling of guilt whenever they spend what money they do have.
Gemma, who has asked for only her first name to be used, is on a decent wage in London but has noticed her salary isn’t going as far this year.
“You feel like a failure because you’re asking yourself what you’re wasting money,” the 28-year-old said.
When she has a “tough week” or something difficult is happening in her personal life, Gemma would love to treat herself to simple pleasures.
“But this year I’ve started feeling guilty about that,” she said.
For young mothers, especially those who are parenting alone, the financial pressures can be even more intense.
“The system is stacked against them,” Ruth Talbot, from the charity Single Parents Rights, told Refinery29. “We are concerned with the inherent discrimination towards younger parents within the government's plans to increase the work requirements. As the work requirements are based on the amount an individual earns, those earning a lower minimum wage will of course be required to work more hours to reach the requirement.”
Even though Jamie Jones makes sure her two young boys are fed plenty of dinner each night, she often lies awake hungry in bed as she drifts off to sleep.
“I’m behind on so many payments,” the 29-year-old told Refinery29. “I’ve now had to speak to debt charities to set up a payment plan with them.”
Currently on maternity leave, Jones is “scraping pennies” at the bottom of her purse to pay for the basics.
“I’m literally just having to go through the cupboard to see what I’ve got,” she said.
When she starts back working 27-hours per week in human resources in January, she is nervous about the additional cost of paying over £1200 a month for childcare.
Overrun with what feels like constant guilt and anxiety, Jamie said it feels like the world is on her shoulders.
“We need measures to address the underlying inequality that young women face in the world of work, through more robust pay gap reporting and action to tackle it, more support for young women to progress at work, and stronger measures to tackle discrimination,” Reindorp said.
She wants to see the National Living Wage extended to younger age groups, increased support through the benefits system, and for young women to be heard when responses the cost of living crisis are discussed.
Talbot is working to campaign against the planned increase in the work requirements to 30 hours a week once a single parent's youngest child turns three, and asking people to sign a petition against the new policy and force the government to reconsider these plans “before it's too late”.
“There are solutions, and we can make a change,” Reindorp concluded.