I would like to concentrate my remarks on the help to save scheme—or should I call it the reinvigorated savings gateway? It is welcome that the Government have recognised the importance of saving and particularly of matched saving—one of the best ways of encouraging people to save. Analysis by StepChange shows that 44% of people on low incomes have a lower chance of getting into debt if they have savings of about £1,000—that is half a million people who would be prevented from falling into debt.
However, I have a few issues with the design of the scheme. For example, two years is a very long time in which to have to save regularly. Some 14 million people experienced at least one income shock in the past 12 months —that might be because of a job loss, a cut in hours, illness or a new baby. If money is withdrawn, people will lose the bonus they feel they have already gained. People on low incomes know they are going to experience some income shocks, and that could discourage them from saving.
We all know that it is good to save and that it is very worthy, and we all start things with good intentions. For example, when we join a gym, we intend to go every week—of course would do—but imagine if we had a two-year contract saying we had to go every week. Crucially, therefore, there should be some measures in the Government’s proposals to allow for irregular savings, where people cannot afford to put money into the scheme one month—after all, we have all missed the odd week at the gym. Things do crop up, and we should allow a couple of withdrawals.
We also need to look at the behavioural economics of people in relation to the scheme. People may need some encouragement and some incentives to join—for example, prize draws. We all know that people spend the odd pound on a lottery ticket in the hope of winning something, and encouraging people to save by offering them the incentive of a prize would be important.
I would like to say quick word about financial education, which is really important. I am pleased that academisation has been taken out of the Queen’s Speech. However, there is a lack of financial education in the curriculum, and it should start earlier. My experience is that primary education is really important. I had a great scheme with a great tutor, Vernon Fuller, who ran a wonderful course for primary students over 10 years ago. I would love to see how they are getting on now.