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Over 6.5 million households are in debt, or face the prospect of falling into debt within a month, should they lose their jobs, according to new research from The Equality Trust. Over 40 per cent of non-retired households have too little saved to pay even a month’s worth of household bills, the research finds.
Many families are also vulnerable to one-off financial shocks. Over a quarter (28%) of non-retired households has too little saved to pay the £540 needed for a boiler to be replaced.
Executive Director of The Equality Trust, Dr Wanda Wyporska, said:
“Over a third of households owe more in debt that they have saved, and millions more face falling into trouble in the event of a financial shock they cannot avoid. Many households are barely clinging on, with high costs, low incomes, and reduced government support.
“We only need to look around to see that the scale of economic inequality in this country has reached dangerous levels. This is not just a financial issue, we know that inequality means that our trust in others is lower, as well as worse levels of physical and mental health for us all. It even holds back our economy.
“Government savings policy supports the already well-off at the expense of those struggling just to get by. This cannot continue. The Government must change direction and offer greater support for its Help to Save scheme, rather than projects such as the lifetime ISA, which only help the richest.”
Current Government savings policy prevents many families on low incomes from saving for their future. Instead it favours the well-off, by offering them tax free savings through ISAs, and bonuses through the new lifetime ISA.
Those saving in a lifetime ISA will see the Government add a 25% bonus on top of their annual savings, up to a maximum of £4,000. But this will not benefit the 50% of non-retired households which have less than £4,000 saved in all formal financial assets. Even fewer would be able to save £4,000 every year. This means the lifetime ISA will provide a £1,000 bonus to wealthy households, and almost nothing to those on low incomes.
The Equality Trust calls on the Government to scrap the lifetime ISA and instead use this funding to boost their Help to Save scheme, which is specifically aimed at supporting low income households receiving the in-work support of Universal Credit (UC). The Government plans to spend just £70 million on its Help to Save scheme by 2020, but over ten times this (£850 million) on the lifetime ISA scheme.
Instead of withdrawing UC as recipients earn more, and then topping up their Help to Save accounts by 50% of that recipient's savings, the Government should simply place withdrawn UC into the recipient’s Help to Save account. This would drastically improve the amount the scheme would help the poorest save. For example, someone saving £100 would be £135 better off as a result of this policy.
Notes to editors
All figures have been compiled by The Equality Trust using data from the Office for National Statistics Wealth and Assets Survey https://discover.ukdataservice.ac.uk/doi?sn=7215#4 which is Crown Copyright. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates
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 The mean average household bill is £2,125.20 for four weeks, according to the ONS’ Family Spending report. 42% of non-retired households do not have this saved in all formal financial assets. This includes in current accounts as well as savings accounts. 69% of households do not have this saved in all savings accounts. Figures for household formal financial assets were compiled from the Office for National Statistics Social Survey Division. (2016). Wealth and Assets Survey, Waves 1-4, 2006- 2014. [data collection].4th Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 7215, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-7215-4
 This is defined as the richest and poorest 10% by income.
 This refers to savings held in all formal financial assets, including current accounts.
 The £540 figures refers to the lowest estimated cost of replacing an existing gas condensing combi boiler in the same position as the previous one, as determined by Which? analysis with the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/boilers/article/the-cost-of-installing-a-boiler