How important is financial independence?

Natasha Turner

by , Finance Journalist and Editor

17 Apr 2023 /  

Woman wearing hat looks at phone in the sun

For women in the UK, financial independence can be vital, sometimes lifesaving. And the best way to ensure it is by pushing for progressive government policy. Women’s financial independence seems mainly defined as having enough money to make your own decisions and meet various spending or savings goals. Just ‘financial independence’ by contrast, is often defined as having enough passive income to not work.

Why the difference? Potentially a bit of sexism (although passive income’s a big no-no on the equality front), but mainly because of the barriers many women face to accessing finance that gives them that independence of choice to live their lives comfortably, fairly and with dignity.

Debt burdens, childcare costs and access to domestic abuse support funding are just some areas in which social and governmental reform will have the effect of creating more financial independence for women, who bear the biggest burden of all three.


The Women’s Budget Group says: “These households, who already face economic hardship, may need to borrow for necessities (e.g. food, shelter) and yet are often also forced to pay the most in interest rates. By contrast, households on higher and more stable incomes can often borrow more cheaply to fund consumption (e.g. holidays or luxury items) and asset accumulation”

Being debt-free or having manageable debt payments is largely thought to be a key indicator of financial independence. We’re often told debt’s a personal problem and the result of poor budgeting or money management. In fact, it’s a structural issue that has greater impacts on lower-income households, the majority of which are female.

Charities such as StepChange has successfully campaigned for more debt relief provisions from the UK government. In November 2022 the government introduced a breathing space scheme, called the Debt Respite Scheme, which means creditors are obliged to freeze interest and charges, along with pausing debt collection activity, when people tell them they’re struggling with debt problems.

Find out more about StepChange campaigns and how to get involved here.


More tireless campaigning can be seen from Pregnant Then Screwed, which was one group responsible for the somewhat-welcomed announcement in the UK’s latest Spring Budget that from September 2025, working parents of children under the age of five will be entitled to 30 hours of free childcare per week.

“We are elated to hear that the childcare sector will now receive a significant investment”, Joeli Brearley, Founder and CEO of Pregnant Then Screwed said. “However, we’re concerned that the money pledged isn’t enough to reduce costs for parents sustainably.”

The average cost of sending a child under the age of two to nursery is £138.70 a week part-time (25 hours) and £269.86 a week full-time (50 hours) in the UK, meaning many women don’t feel they have an independent choice to make when it comes to leaving the workforce to raise children.

Find out more about Pregnant Then Screwed campaigns and how to get involved here.

Leaving the workforce is a major contributor to the gender pay gap, which remains largely unchanged year-on-year in the UK. Women already account for 69% of low earners, so additional pay disparity’s not helpful in securing financial independence.

Domestic abuse

Financial constraints are a major reason why women across the income spectrum can find it extremely difficult to leave an abusive relationship and to stay out. Many domestic abuse situations will involve an element of financial control, be that racking up debt in her name, restricting access to bank accounts and withholding money in a variety of ways.

Having a solely owned, easily accessible ‘f*** off fund’ – a pot of money that may help you to leave an abusive relationship, or an unsuitable job or tenancy – can therefore provide essential, sometimes lifesaving, assistance.

Cuts to refuge funding amounted to £7 billion from 2010 to 2018, and more recent grants haven’t been enough to meet the rising cost of living. With services forced to turn women away, that ‘fund’ potentially needs to be the biggest it’s ever needed to be.

Women’s Aid has run an SOS (Save our Services) campaign since 2014 to secure funding for refuges. Find out more and how to get involved here.

It may also be important to keep other pots of money separate from partners. There are no additional benefits to combining your finances in the UK - you can still apply for a joint mortgage or other joint loans, and if you choose to marry or get a civil partnership your tax and pension entitlements aren’t dependent on joint finances. But there are potential drawbacks in addition to financial abuse, such as combined credit scores and taking on debt.

However, combining finances, or depending financially on a partner, can also be an important decision, for example, in order to support a creative endeavour or spend more time with children or communities.

All women deserve to make choices unburdened by the financial constraints of debt, abuse and gendered costs, and it’s important this basic level of independence is facilitated in our society. After that, the importance of your financial independence is really up to you.

This blog was inspired by an article from Rebalancing Act, a weekly newsletter answering women’s questions on money, finance and economics.

Natasha Turner is one half of the weekly women’s finance, economics and money newsletter, Rebalancing Act, and Global Editor of sustainable finance publication ESG Clarity. She’s also currently writing a book on whether finance can ever be truly feminist.

Risk warning

As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.

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