Functions

Part of Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 1st February 2018.

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As stated in the Lords Committee on Financial Exclusion, a real strength of the Money Advice Service is its focus on what works and on gathering together an evidence hub. We do not want to see momentum lost—[Interruption.] I am confident, given Government Members’ reaction, that no one wants to see that work slip through our fingers; that would be a missed opportunity. The Committee concluded that

“it is important for the Government and service providers to continue to develop a greater knowledge of ‘what works’ when seeking to deliver increased financial capability.”

Sadly, there are many recent examples of vulnerable individuals who have been preyed upon by so-called introducers at a time when the state of their pension scheme has been in question—in particular, British Steel workers in Port Talbot and, more recently, Carillion workers. Earlier, I told hon. Members about a shift supervisor breaking down in tears because he made a wrong decision after receiving bad advice, and because 20 others on his shift had followed his bad advice. He said that he would never forgive himself. Introducers—vultures—pounce upon workers at a time when they are unsure about their future financial situation, and persuade them to transfer their pension savings to a different scheme that will lose them money and often attracts high fees. Such examples illustrate the need for a national strategy to improve the financial education available to the British public.

The admirable Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, makes the point that we have the green cross code—I am sure all hon. Members have seen it—to encourage the safe crossing of streets. It is inculcated in people’s minds and has been very effectively promoted. I went through it with my own kids. She says that, likewise—although not perhaps in the same way—we should encourage people to pause, think and get it right, particularly in circumstances of adversity. We should also help people plan for the future. Either way, that “Where do I turn?” is absolutely crucial. The new body will be a welcome step in the right direction, but we need to deliver a dynamic new body that works hard to create awareness.

The amendment would create a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market. Due to the increasingly fragmented and insecure nature of the contemporary labour market, many people are sadly perpetually in a precarious financial situation. I have seen that at first hand time and again in my constituency and in my former role at Unite the union. That group, now commonly known as the precariat, includes self-employed people, workers on zero-hours contracts, part-time workers, workers in the gig economy and those who are conscripted into bogus self-employment. I stress once again that I always draw a distinction between the admirable people—there are many—who want to work on a self-employed basis, and those who are given no alternative, including by employers such as Uber.

Due to the nature of their work and their hours, those people often find it difficult to access basic financial services. It can be hard for them to rent a home, to get a mortgage, to find home or contents insurance, and to access credit. That has contributed to record low levels of disposable income, alongside the longest wage stagnation in 150 years. Figures released last year suggest that the number of self-employed workers in the UK rose by 23% between 2007 and 2017, from 3.8 million to 4.7 million. Many of them are desperately in need of high-quality advice and guidance. What we are seeing is a shift in the nature of the world of work and the way that the British economy is working. The self-employed now represent 15% of the workforce and 91% of businesses. Although that can mean many enjoying greater flexibility and control over their working lives, it can have a negative impact on their access to finance.

A 2017 FCA report showed that consumers with no permanent address or who move regularly, which is often a characteristic of insecure employment, can regularly have problems opening bank accounts and accessing insurance and credit. That is a common situation for many people in the current labour market, particularly young people in metropolitan areas. Due to short-term tenancies and insecure working patterns, many people move on a regular basis. That can leave them open to problems accessing basic financial services and they may need guidance on the best way to go about that. The amendment proposes that the new body would need to devise its strategy and financial guidance taking into account the contemporary labour market and the challenges it delivers.

There is no question but that we have a rapidly changing labour market, with many badly in need of advice and support, as a consequence of patterns of employment. The Government have recognised the need for a focus on the issues about the modern labour market through the Matthew Taylor report. The amendment sits comfortably in the context of the overall scrutiny by the Government and Parliament on how we respond on what is permissible in the future in terms of patterns of employment, and how to, in the here and now, give support to people in insecure employment that time and again they so badly need.