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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
I'm professional, single and poor
By Julian Knight
BBC News personal finance reporter

Barbara Lambert
Barbara Lambert retired due to ill health
The number of single people living in poverty has increased by 300,000 to 3.9 million since 1996, according to the charity Elizabeth Finn Trust.

BBC News talked to one single woman struggling to overcome acute long term financial problems.

A heart condition forced Barbara Lambert, 65, from Yorkshire, to retire from nursing in 1995.

Ever since retirement the divorced mother of six children, two of whom have Downs Syndrome, has battled to make ends meet. Barbara also had to cope with the break up of her marriage.

"The state takes care of the basics, but if anything goes wrong such as the washing machine breaking or a roof in need of repair I face great difficulties."

Many women I know who work, or have worked, in nursing who are now face real financial hardship

"You go along fine and then life can throw you completely off course.

"I thought because I'm a professional with skills that I would be fine, but there is little you can really do when ill health or some other major problem strikes."

Barbara has found that many of her contemporaries have similar difficulty making ends meet but often choose to suffer in silence.

"I have been really surprised by how many women I know who work, or have worked, in nursing who are now face real financial hardship.

"They generally keep quiet about it due to pride, but they will tell me because they know of the struggle I have had over the years."

Single person poverty

The Elizabeth Finn Trust has estimated that there are 3.9 million single people in the UK living below the poverty line. Many of these people are divorced women, the charity added.

Poverty among single people is not as high profile as that suffered by families and pensioners.

Tackling disadvantage among families with young children and pensioners has been a key objective of the UK government, but policymakers have paid little attention to the plight of single people in poverty.

"There seems to me to be a lot of hidden poverty out there amongst divorced or separated women."

Reduced pension

Like many other people of my generation, I didn't understand the full implications of only paying married woman's national insurance contributions

And Barbara finds little financial relief through her state pension.

She does not receive a full state pension because for much of her working life she paid married woman's national insurance contributions.

In return for lower contributions, she waived her right to the basic state pension until her husband reached 65 - when she would receive 60% of his pension.

"Like many other people of my generation, I didn't understand the full implications of only paying married woman's national insurance contributions. I have been left with very little as a result."

Fortunately, Barbara has been able to call on the aid of the Elizabeth Finn Trust - a charity which aims to help professionals in financial dire straits.

Elizabeth Finn has given Barbara money to help meet emergency expenses and helped pay for Christmas since the 1990s.


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