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The household debt-to-income ratio has fallen from 152% at the start of 2010 to 138% in the third quarter of 2017. It has remained significantly below its pre-crisis peak of 160% in the first quarter of 2008. I also note today’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the same subject.
I, too, have read the IFS report, which points out that debt is a real problem for a significant minority of low-income householders who are struggling to pay the bills and make debt repayments. Does the Minister accept that imposing a freeze on benefits when inflation is standing at 3% will make things even tougher for those families?
The report also points out that the percentage of households with financial liabilities in the four lowest wealth quintiles fell between June 2010 and June 2014. The Government are fully committed to helping the poorest households, and just last year the Money Advice Service spent £49 million on giving 440,000 free-to-client sessions to assist those in difficulty.
My right hon. Friend makes a sensible point. The Government have empowered the independent Financial Policy Committee to advise them on these matters, and to keep a close watch on the level of debt.
One trend that alarms me is the false advertising of consumer credit rates. Despite having a perfect credit rating, according to Experian, I was told that M&S Bank would not give me the advertised rate that was supposedly being offered to 51% of its customers. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the Financial Conduct Authority is robust in ensuring that advertised rates are made available to the majority of consumers?
I am familiar with the hon. Gentleman’s situation and his correspondence with the Financial Conduct Authority. I believe that he has met FCA representatives. The FCA has strong powers to ban products. It has unlimited fines at its disposal and it can order repayments. As the hon. Gentleman knows, 51% of applicants for loans will receive the advertised rate, and those are the terms that the FCA works to.
Obviously I do not have a crystal ball, and as the economy grows, different patterns of behaviour will ensue. It is not for the Government to tell people what to do; we are trying to secure a growing economy in which people have the choice.
Personal debt is the biggest worry for many people I meet. The figures released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies today show that a third of those on the lowest incomes are in net debt. This debt is persistent; it is a spiral that people get stuck in for years. What are the UK Government doing to improve the financial position of households with the lowest incomes?
We recognise that on occasions people find themselves in challenging debt situations. That is why we committed in our manifesto to a six-week breathing space, and we will bring that legislation forward in due course in the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill.
Over a third of people aged under 45 live in households with a financial wealth of less than zero. For too many people there is not enough money at the end of each month or each week. From next year individuals earning less than £26,000 in England will pay more income tax than they would if they lived in Scotland; how can the Minister justify that?
The Government recognise the challenges facing those on lower salaries, which is why we have increased the tax-free allowance, have had the eighth successive fuel duty freeze, and have increased the national living wage above the inflation rate.
My hon. Friend is right. The Government do not take anything for granted and will look very closely at what is happening with the poorest in our society.
Does the Minister acknowledge that the reasons why a quarter of people on low incomes are currently experiencing significant problems with arrears or debt repayment include, first, his Government not taking on board Labour’s programme to rein in credit card debt and, secondly, the fact that their changes to the tax threshold have been outweighed for the poorest people by alterations to social security?
The hon. Lady needs to acknowledge the transformation that the national living wage has brought to so many people and this Government’s willingness to increase it above inflation. It is also worth noting that interest payments as a proportion of income are currently at the lowest on record.