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Personal Debt

Volume 472: debated on Thursday 6 March 2008

According to the latest Bank of England statistics, total personal debt was £1.4 trillion in January 2008. That is against a background of economic stability and rising prosperity, with rising employment and robust income growth.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but given that about one fifth of all income is necessary just to service debt, which in turn will affect the demand for final goods and services, how confident is she about her forecast for economic growth of 2 to 2.5 per cent., when the consensus is that economic growth will slow down to 1.75 per cent.?

The hon. Lady will have to wait until next week for the updated forecast in the Budget. When looking at net debt, we must look at the level of assets, too, which have also risen, to £7.5 trillion. Household net wealth has risen by 72 per cent. in real terms under the economic policies pursued by the Government since 1997. I think that that is a success.

Does my hon. Friend agree that an intrinsic part of personal debt is the mortgage? Is she worried that people are predicting a mortgage famine, as the banking system increasingly refuses to lend to anyone? Will that be good for the economy or for personal debt?

I am not quite so pessimistic as my hon. Friend. We are not complacent about the situation that we face, but I should point out that there have been 1.8 million more home owners in the past 10 years under Labour. Because of our policies of economic stability and success, the average mortgage rate has been 5.6 per cent., which is half what the Conservatives managed to achieve between 1979 and 1997. That makes mortgages more affordable.

I must confess that I was rather disappointed with the Exchequer Secretary’s complacent answer to the original question. Does she not recognise that while she preaches stability and prudence her Department is setting the worst possible example of personal debt, given the enormous amount of public debt now on the balance sheet, which is getting ever worse?

One of the best ways to address personal debt is through the provision of generic financial advice. This week the Thoresen review was published. Will my hon. Friend say whether she has had a chance to read it yet, when the Government are likely to come forward with recommendations based upon it and when we can look forward to a comprehensive system of generic financial advice throughout the country?

We strongly welcome the Thoresen review and have already announced £12 million to finance the pathfinder roll-out of all the generic financial advice involved in the review, in order to increase financial literacy, which Thoresen suggested that we do.