UK Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey 2021: Credit Counts

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The Credit Counts survey, part of the Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey 2021, looked at the number of adults who often use a credit card, overdraft or borrow money to buy food and other essentials or pay bills because they’ve run short of money.

It showed that while the number of people relying on this was higher in individuals on low incomes, there were also differences between age groups, ethnicity and whether the individual was responsible for children, among other things.

This survey was conducted by the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) to align with the Credit Counts goal of the UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing, which aims to get two million fewer people often using credit to pay for food and bills.

It consists of online and postal interviews during July to September 2021. This is, notably, before current cost-of-living pressures intensified. However, it is useful in providing a snapshot through which comparisons can be made moving forward.

How was the Credit Counts survey conducted?

This report is based on credit questions in MaPS’s Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey.

The Financial Wellbeing Survey is a nationally representative survey of 10,306 adults living in the UK.

Data is weighted to be representative of the UK 18+ population by region/devolved nation, age, gender, Indices of Multiple Deprivation, housing tenure, urbanity, ethnicity, working status and internet usage.

The research was conducted for MaPS by Critical Research.

Key findings

One in six UK adults (17%) are often borrowing for the everyday. This includes using credit cards, overdrafts or borrowing money.

Who is most likely to borrow for the everyday?

Borrowing for the everyday happens across all sections of the population. However, these results show that it is especially common among some groups:

  • young adults aged 18-24.
  • parents:
    • single parents are three times more likely to borrow for the everyday as childless working age people
    • a similar picture exists for couple parents.
  • People who have experienced a mental health problem in the last three year are three times more likely to borrow for the everyday than people without recent problems.
  • Individuals from ethnic minority groups are twice as likely as white individuals to often borrow for the everyday.

Not surprisingly, borrowing for the everyday is linked to income, around three in 10 or more of each of the following groups say they often borrow for essentials:

  • Lower income households are twice as likely as medium/higher income households to say they often borrow for the everyday.
  • However, it is not entirely about income: 12% of middle income and 14% of higher income households say they borrow for the everyday.

It is also more common among renters and people with a long-term disability or health condition.

How has the picture changed since 2021?

This report is based on data from 2021, before the most recent cost of living pressures. We expect that the proportions borrowing for the everyday will have increased since summer 2021. However, many of the most vulnerable groups are likely to be the same.

Early indications suggest that 79% of the UK’s adult population are now using credit in some form, according to a nationally representative survey of 3000 adults in the UK conducted MaPS in September 2022.

Of these, two in five (43%) are now anxious about how much they owe; over a third (35%) are worried about the number of different products they have.

The same survey also indicated that one in five adults in the UK had sought money help or guidance in some form within the last three months alone.

You can read more about these figures in our November 2022 press release into savings levels in the UK.

What’s next?

MaPS is working to support consumers with credit through a number of activities set out in the UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing Delivery plans.

These include:

  • Improving awareness of, and access to, affordable credit.
  • Improving consumer credit journeys and guidance, supporting people to make more informed choices about using and managing credit.
  • Promoting best practice and work with creditors to explore support for customers in financial difficulty.