Seven million account holding customers of a major UK Bank have less than £100 in savings. According to retail banking specialists, it’s the same for customers at the other banks as well. The same people also have no home insurance and no life insurance. That’s not a narrow margin when things go wrong, it’s no margin at all. When we followed up with other professionals and ex-professionals, we found the same situation exists for millions without pensions. A little more digging revealed the appalling levels of personal debt that many people carry around with them, particularly the under 35s.
The reason we at LSS are shocked is that the situation is so unstable. Poor hungry people with little to lose will always be vulnerable to the promises of revolutionaries and extremists. Poor hungry people have little money to throw around, and that will quickly deepen recessions and slow recoveries, as the most simple textbooks will show. Their children are poor learners, with long term implications for the future of the economy, and society.
We don’t know the causes. It could be hyper-consumerism and addiction to debt. It may be low wages; we trembled for free market economics when we learned that ” the reason that teaching assistants had no pensions was that their meagre wages would not let them afford them.” It may be as long term as the decline of the Protestant Work Ethic, which has led to the end of saving and deferred gratification, leading to a narcissistic cult of everything today. We don’t know; and we doubt that you do either, gentle reader.
The consequences of a deeply unequal society were well outlined in The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The UK Government has said it wants to level up, a desire that we fervently support. But from what we learned today, we think they have a mighty, mighty mountain to climb.
Wilkinson R, Pickett K The Spirit Level Allen Lane 2009
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