Examination of Witnesses

Part of Savings (Government Contributions) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:27 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Jonquil Lowe:

Perhaps we ought to keep in mind what the whole aim underlying all these schemes is. Certainly, when you are looking at housing, it is affordable, high-quality housing for all. Will the lifetime ISA deliver that? Will it excite young people? I think it will not, because what we are likely to see is that the people who can afford to save can save in it, and the people who have wealthy parents will see their parents transfer money into it. I think it will be very important to evaluate this scheme, to see whether it really does generate new saving that improves people’s financial resilience.

Help to Save is very similar to Saving Gateway. I do not know whether you recall this, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies did some evaluation work on the pilots for Saving Gateway and, in contrast to some of the other evaluation, came to the conclusion that Saving Gateway did not generate new saving. What it did was encourage people who had already built up a stock of saving to transfer that into that scheme, and I fear that we might see that with the lifetime ISA as well. It is just shuffling the money on the balance sheets; it is not actually generating new saving.

I think the lifetime ISA is not necessarily going to help more young people to buy the house that they may aspire to. The money can be drawn out for use not only on new build housing but existing housing stock, so there is a danger that it will just push house prices up. Although it may help some people at the margin to transfer from being renters to being owners, for other people, it is going to put the dream of home ownership even further out of reach.

We also have another concern, which is whether this is just another part of the transition of moving away from the collective risk that society bears to individualising risk. The lifetime ISA legislation allows the Government to consider early withdrawals without penalty for reasons other than house purchase. At the moment, that is not something that they are going to do when the scheme is first introduced, but schedule 1, part 3 allows for that option.

That starts to look very similar to a scheme that was tried in the Netherlands and abandoned in 2012, called the life-course savings scheme. The idea was that employees could build up some savings, tax-free, through deductions from their salary, and that those savings could be withdrawn to pay for periods caring for a frail relative, for example, or for the cost of childcare. Again, that is absolutely fine if you can afford to save, but if you cannot, that form of welfare is not helpful and excludes a lot of people. The evaluation of that Dutch scheme found that, as you might expect, fewer women and part-time workers took part. The amount saved went up dramatically with earnings, and the vast majority of people said that they were doing it because it was tax-free and would allow them to retire early. That scheme did not really address the aims that had been set out and was, again, a very regressive form of welfare.