Improving Financial Wellbeing for those on Lower Incomes

At a time of increasing economic uncertainty and growing inequality, the UK like other advanced economies, has seen a shift from collective welfare provision towards private individual responsibility and risk. However, many people do not have the financial means or capability to manage this effectively. The Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM) aims to help people make good financial decisions in life, and provides world-class research on the role of assets and their distribution in people's lives from pensions to housing to savings, looking to make changes at policy levels.

About the project

CHASM's mission is to carry out world-class research on wealth and financial wellbeing. The Centre investigates how personal finance varies across countries and the impact that changing demographics, such as an ageing population, can have on the economy. As well as personal finance, CHASM looks at the role of the state as financial services sector and their impact on individuals and families. The Centre provides recommendations to policymakers, including advising the Treasury on how tax adversely interfaces with life events and providing insight for debates on household assets at Westminster.

Savings policy forms a core element of CHASM’s research and activities, and findings from several projects undertaken by Centre Director Andy Lymer and others within CHASM highlighted the need to intervene in this area, given declining savings rates and the importance of savings for financial wellbeing.   

Key Findings:

  1. Savings rates in the UK are low and have been declining. 60% of low and middle-income households have no savings and around 16 million people have less than £100 in savings. The UK’s household savings rate is lower than the EU average and far lower than many of our Western European neighbours, and the gap between the amount saved by those on low and higher incomes is also increasing.
  2. Savings play a crucial protective role against financial shocks and crises. They also have psychological benefits. A more inclusive savings philosophy could improve mental and physical health, increasing feelings of security and general wellbeing.
  3. The state needs to provide a bigger savings nudge and allocate more funds to support low-income savers. State support and subsidies for savings have historically benefitted those on higher incomes (for example, in the form of ISAs and pensions). When first announced in 2016, the planned costs of HtS were dwarfed by the cost of ISA support, at just 1.4% of the cost of tax deductions for ISAs.
  4. A variety of factors, as well as income, impact on savings behaviour and on a low-income household’s capacity to save, including lifecycle stage, demands on income and motivation. Savings policy needs to account for this variation and be flexible, incentivising good habits that reward saving small, achievable amounts. 
  5. ‘Rainy day’ justifications for saving centred around welfare and the threat of financial crises can be counterproductive. Using positive language that emphasises achievable, personal objectives is more effective.
  6. Supporting low-income savings and financial wellbeing requires a holistic strategy that includes government incentives as well as input from civil society organisations to provide trusted savings products and support; a stronger commercial market that acts in savers’ interests; and enhanced employer and cross cutting partnerships.
  7. Financial Technology is playing an increasingly important role across these areas through online apps for employer mediated savings support, financial alerts and budgeting.

Impact

Savings are a critical aspect of financial wellbeing but savings rates in the UK have been declining. 60% of low and middle-income households have no savings and 16 million people have less than £100 in savings.

Professor Andy Lymer and the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM) have informed policy debate and shaped decisionsaround supported savings policies in the UK, particularly around the government’s latest supported savings policy, the Help to Save (HtS) scheme for which 3.5 million adults are eligible.

A manifesto on inclusive savings, an advisory role on the scheme’s stakeholder group and a commissioned project on the scheme’s app and related services have shaped the implementation of this policy, improving the quality, accessibility and take-up of the scheme.

As of February 2020, there are now 126,000 active accounts, with a total invested in schemes that now exceeds £53 million. As a result 126,000 low income families have already benefited from improved financial, and other, wellbeing connected with access to savings.

This work has influenced debates on inclusive savings strategies within the wider financial sector, changing ideas and practices within organisations.

Should people in problem debt look to save?

The Team

Professor Andy Lymer
Director of CHASM, Professor of Accounting and Taxation

Professor Karen Rowlingson
Professor of Social Policy

Dr James Gregory
Research Fellow

Media

Get a 50% bonus on savings with the Government's Help to Save scheme
Moneyfacts.co.uk, 2 March 2020

Should people in problem debt look to save?
Birmingham Business School Blog, 20 January 2020

CHASM welcomes John Glen MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, for the Help to Save Anniversary Event
University of Birmingham, 17 September 2019

Savers to earn 50p for every £1 saved thanks to Help to Save 
Gov.uk, 12 September 2018

Help to Save Scheme to Start Slowly
BBC News, 11 December 2017

John Glen MP at the Help to Save First Anniversary event at the University of Birmingham

Publications

Rowlingson, K and McKay, S (2011) Wealth and the Wealthy: Exploring and tackling inequalities between rich and poor, Bristol: Policy Press

Gregory, J, Rowlingson, K and Lymer, A (2017) Savings for All: A Manifesto for an Inclusive Savings Agenda, Birmingham: University of Birmingham - https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/social-policy/CHASM/2016/Saving-for-All-Manifesto-vfinal.pdf

Rowlingson, A, Gregory, J and Lymer, A (2016) ‘Birmingham Savings Summit: Towards a savings manifesto for lower-income households’ https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-social-sciences/social-policy/CHASM/briefing-papers/2016/birmingham-savings-summit-may2016.pdf

Rowlingson, K, McKay, S and Overton, L (2019) Financial Inclusion Annual Monitoring Briefing Paper, Birmingham, University of Birmingham https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/chasm/financial-inclusion/index.aspx