I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Let me start by reminding the House why the measures contained in the Bill are so important. We want people in this country to have all the tools at their disposal to save money in a way that works for them. We want to make it easier for everyone to build up the savings that they need, to meet their ambitions and to feel secure in their personal finances. We have already set to work to make that the case, putting an end to 17 million people having to pay tax on the interest they receive on their savings and making the biggest ever increase to the individual savings account allowance—to £20,000 from April next year—but we want to do more. The Bill will introduce two new schemes—the lifetime ISA and Help to Save—that will support more people as they save up for the future and provide them with new options to do so.
The lifetime ISA will provide a new option for young people who are looking to save for the long term. We want to make sure that they have a choice in how they save. For some, the pensions system alone is the way forward and we have done a lot to improve it, such as through automatic enrolment and initiatives such as the pensions dashboard. In our consultation last year on pension tax relief, we heard that the pensions system on its own is too inflexible for young people, so the lifetime ISA complements that system while giving people a new option that has been designed with flexibility in mind.
The lifetime ISA is a way of saving up to £4,000 a year. Someone can open an account between the ages of 18 and 40 and carry on saving up to the age of 50. On top of any interest they receive on their savings, they will earn a 25% tax-free bonus from the Government that is paid straight into their account.
Is the Minister at all concerned that this lifetime ISA will introduce an added complexity to the savings market, in particular for young people? Choosing whether to go for a pension or a lifetime ISA could be one of the most important financial decisions in a person’s life. Does she think that there is merit in increasing investment in independent advice and financial literacy so that young people are able to make informed financial decisions?
On the latter point, I will discuss advice a bit later on, but we are keen that people have access to good advice and good information. On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, this is about complementary products. It is not an either/or choice. The feedback from last year’s consultation was that many younger people did not want to make a binary choice between saving for later in life and saving for a house. This product is simple in its design but gives people that flexibility. As he says, it is important that people get advice, but the welcome that the proposal has received from consumer advocates indicates that people think that it is simple and flexible.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. Their incomes mean that many young people are perhaps more hard-pressed than older generations. They do not have the choice of investing in a pension and a lifetime ISA, so they will be deciding which one to go for. The Government need to address that worry with these proposals.
That interaction has been addressed in the Bill’s impact assessment. There was some concern about the Help to Buy ISA and the interaction with automatic enrolment, but we have seen no evidence of it driving a higher opt-out rate. In fact, the opt-out rate for automatic enrolment is lower than forecast—even on the forecast that was revised down. I note the hon. Gentleman’s concern but I think it has been addressed in the work that we have done.
What is attractive about the lifetime ISA is that people do not have to make an immediate decision about why they are saving this money, which goes back to the hon. Gentleman’s point about people not having to make that decision at an early stage when they cannot see what is ahead.
Anyone saving into an auto-enrolment pension will get tax relief up front, but anyone who invests in a lifetime ISA will be making that investment out of taxed income. Does the Minister see the unfairness in that?
Obviously, we have the Government bonus, which I mentioned, but I go back to the point about this not being an either/or choice; this is about people having potentially complementary products that are for different purposes. This product is not about replacing a pension; it is about giving people a complementary product to help them save for later in life, while keeping open the option of building up money to put towards a house. As we have seen, many hundreds of thousands of people have taken that opportunity with the previous ISA product.
The lifetime ISA can be used by people to get on to the property ladder for the first time and can be put towards a home worth less than £450,000. Through this Bill, from April next year a new, more flexible way to save will be available to people, as one of a number of options.
The Bill also introduces Help to Save, which is about finding a better way to support families who are just about managing but are struggling to build up their savings. All Members will be aware of the research carried out by a number of bodies, particularly the excellent Centre for Social Justice, which estimates that 3 million low-income households have no savings at all. That is not a nice position for anyone to be in: living without having any kind of financial safety net in place and knowing that if they lose their job, they have barely got enough money to pay next month’s rent.
Will the Minister acknowledge the concern of some that the two-year qualifying period for Help to Save is lengthy for people on very low incomes? Will she also acknowledge the credit union movement’s concern that as a result of the Government response to the consultation on Help to Save—this is how I understand it—it is going to be excluded from offering Help to Save products?
We have announced that we will be going with a single provider, National Savings & Investments, at the outset, but the primary legislation does not preclude more people providing the product in future; it was essential that we got national coverage for offering this product, but, like all of us in this House, I have huge respect for the credit union movement and we certainly see a role for it going forward, not least in respect of advice and support, a point referred to a moment ago. Perhaps we will tease more of that out in this debate, but I hope that gives the hon. Gentleman some reassurance.
The two-year period comes from looking at the advice and research that has been done by groups that deal with people in this category, and trying to capture the moment at which a savings habit is ingrained. This does not mean people cannot take money out; there is no penalty for taking money out earlier if they want to access it, but the bonus comes at the two-year point, and I will come on to deal with that. This is based on research by groups and charities that work with people in the target market for the product, so there is a robust reasoning for that two-year period.
If someone is trying to put some of that hard-earned money aside in an effort to be more financially secure, we want them to have the full support of their Government as they do so. That is why, through this Bill, we want to introduce the new Help to Save accounts by no later than April 2018. They will be open to any adult who is getting working tax credits or universal credit and working enough to earn the equivalent of at least 16 hours’ pay at the national living wage. That means about 3.5 million people are likely to be eligible.
As has been mentioned, people can save up to £50 a month for two years—we are talking about £1,200 in total—and the Government will give them a 50% bonus. If after those two years someone wants to do that again for the next two years, they will be able to do so. This way to save also offers complete flexibility. What people want to do with the money they have saved and with the Government bonus they have earned is completely up to them, and if they want to take their money out at any time, they can; there will not be any charge or penalty for doing so.
As usual, the House of Commons Library has produced a fantastic briefing on this Bill. In relation to this product, it mentions the conclusions of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which says that only £70 million has been allocated by the Treasury to cover this new savings product in 2020-21, which is nowhere near enough to cover the Government contribution of 50% if everybody who is eligible takes up the product. Has the Treasury got its figures wrong?
We know that, historically—the hon. Gentleman is right on this—it has been difficult to target financial advice at some of those who are being targeted by this product. Indeed, not many financial products are being targeted at this particular group. However, I can reassure him that we will be doing everything we can—all hon. Members and credit unions have a role to play in this—to promote this product. If the take-up exceeds our expectations, we would be delighted, and we will certainly be working to that effect.
The scheme provides a real incentive for people on low incomes to keep saving what they can. That means that more and more families will have a rainy day fund, so that they can cope with unforeseen events that come their way. I am talking about the sort of events that many of us as constituency Members recognise. They are the ones that drive people into our advice surgeries because something has happened. Research from the debt charity, StepChange, suggests that if families have £1,000 in the bank, they are almost half as likely to fall into problem debt, by which it means being in arrears with at least one bill or credit commitment. This is a savings vehicle that will really help people to build up a pot of money, which can be used for any purpose at all, but which is also there if needed for a rainy day.
In conclusion, this Bill is all about rewarding people who are trying to save for their future and providing them with new options to do so, and it encourages more people to follow their example. Whether we are talking about a young person who wants flexibility in how they save for their future, or someone on a low income who is trying hard to set aside a bit of money each month, we want to ensure that they have a helping hand along the way. Through these two new savings vehicles, that is exactly what the Government will provide. It therefore gives me great pleasure to commend this Bill to the House.
It is a pleasure, as always, to debate opposite the Minister. I thank her for outlining the overarching principles of the Bill, which will introduce the new lifetime ISA and the Help to Save scheme. As we have heard, the lifetime ISA is a new savings product that will be available from April 2017 in which people under 40 may deposit up to £4,000 a year. The Government will then top up those savings by 25%. The savings accumulated in the LISA can be used as a deposit towards a first home, or can be accessed once a person is 60 to “complement”, to use the Government’s word, their retirement income. In the absence of using the product to save for a house deposit, it will be possible for a person to remove funds from the LISA before they are 60, but there will be a charge of 25%, effectively to remove the Government top-up from the funds withdrawn.
The Help to Save scheme will be available for people in receipt of either universal credit or working tax credit. If they receive working tax credit, they must have minimum weekly earnings equivalent to 16 hours at the so-called national living wage.
I was grateful to the Minister for her response to my question. Will my hon. Friend commit our Front-Bench team to probing the Government further on whether there should be a two-year qualifying period, or if the period should be reduced to 12 months? Similarly, will she commit our Front-Bench team to exploring in Committee whether credit unions can be allowed to take part alongside National Savings and Investments? NS&I already offers national coverage, so there is no reason why credit unions should be excluded.
My hon. Friend makes important points and we would support him in pushing the Government to respond to those questions. I will highlight some of the concerns of our Front-Bench team about the Help to Save scheme in particular. Credit unions are vital for the roll-out of any savings scheme that targets the most deprived communities.
The hon. Lady helpfully outlined the circumstances in which the lifetime ISA kicks in. Does she welcome that ISA to enable young people to save, given that half of present ISA holders are over 55?
I welcome the Government’s sentiment of encouraging people to save. If I may make a little progress, the hon. and learned Lady will get a fuller response in due course.
The Opposition have serious concerns about both policies under the Bill and a number of questions, with which I hope the Minister can assist. The Labour party warmly supports the Government’s principal aim of encouraging saving. Many working people in Britain are not saving enough or not saving at all, and that is storing up a multitude of problems not just for their personal finances, but for the public purse. The helpful House of Commons Library briefing states that 28% of people say that they have no savings at all and that 38% would struggle to pay an emergency expense of more than £500. In addition, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation surveys on poverty and social exclusion consistently find that between a quarter and a third of households say that they are unable to make regular savings. In the most recent survey, which was conducted in 2012, 32% of households gave that answer.
It is therefore right for the Government to examine methods and structures that will encourage saving, but I am sure that the Minister agrees that they must also address the root causes of this low saving trend. Will she examine carefully the reasons why many people do not save at all? Is it because they are splashing out on fancy cars and extravagant purchases, or is it because wages are too low and the cost of living is too high to get through the month for some people, never mind whether they have a bit of spare cash at the end of the month to put into a savings plan?
Does the hon. Lady agree—this is perhaps unlike some of the measures brought in by Chancellor Gordon Brown—that it is important to keep products as simple as possible? It is also hugely important that they are transferable—a Help to Buy ISA can be transferred into the lifetime ISA—and complementary.
Indeed. Products need to be explained as simply as possible and there needs to be a commitment from the Government that there will be an adequate advertising campaign to avoid any ambiguity about a product. I shall shortly come on to some of my concerns about the specific products to which the Bill refers.
It is important to examine the fact that those who live in more deprived areas or areas that do not have access to a healthy range of high street financial services are often more financially excluded, having limited access to reasonable lending facilities. This in turn leads many to rely on extremely high interest lending facilities such as payday lenders, which are often the only lending facility available. In many cases, that initiates a cycle of debt and sucks any possible savings surplus out of the monthly pay packet. It cannot be lost on the Minster that for some time now food banks have been reporting surges in the number of people in full-time employment who are accessing them. This in itself may suggest that many people have no spare cash to live on day to day, let alone to save.
These problems bring me to the Opposition’s main problem with the Help to Save scheme that the Bill introduces. We wholeheartedly support moves to encourage saving for a rainy day, but in many cases the idea that those on universal credit and working tax credit have a spare £50 at the end of the month is extremely optimistic. People can barely make ends meet, as the Government found out last year when there was a cross-party backlash after they tried to take thousands of pounds from the recipients of much-needed tax credits. The transition to universal credit will arguably leave people in an even worse position.
I will pre-empt the Minister’s reply that Help to Save is incredibly similar to the saving gateway scheme that was piloted by the previous Labour Government.
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady, but it is important to make the point that this is about people saving up to £50. It must not be suggested that everyone must save £50. The figure is up to £50, and that can be a very small amount. I would just like to make that clear.
I thank the Minister for clarifying that point, but I think that some people would struggle to save even £5 a month, let alone £50.
Let me go back to the point I was trying to make about Labour’s scheme. We did introduce a similar scheme, but it is important to note that we had not spent the previous six years eroding the disposable income of the people whom it targeted. Help to Save might well look good on paper in terms of helping those on low incomes to save, but I must warn the Minister that, given the long-term effect of Government cuts and wider austerity measures, it will not have the desired impact in many cases. The cuts the Government are making to universal credit alone will cost 2.5 million families up to £1,600 a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Where will these families find even £1 a month, or up to £50 a month, to put into this savings scheme?
It appears that the Government are not expecting the measure to put rocket boosters, as it were, under savings by those on low incomes. Their costing for the policy is £70 million in 2020-21. Some 3.5 million people will be eligible for the scheme, so if my and the IFS’s calculations are correct, that works out as a Government bonus of £20 per eligible individual in 2020-21.
I was very excited to read the Government’s impact assessment in the past few hours. However, the Minister should note that it arrived at only 1 pm today, and while I am pleased that it arrived at all, she will appreciate that it is really not acceptable to provide such information at the 11th hour if the Government wish to be transparent and capable of being effectively held to account. None the less, I was interested to see that the Government’s expected take-up rate was 500,000 people in the first two years. I will be grateful if she explains the rationale behind that figure. For example, are specific groups more likely to save than others?
The hon. Lady refers to the impact assessment. After the sentence she referred to, it says:
“These estimates were informed by information from similar savings schemes and government savings pilots.”
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for reading from the impact assessment, but I was asking whether specific groups are more likely to save than others, and I do not think the assessment provides that information.
Most importantly, however, how will the scheme help the remaining 3 million people who simply cannot afford to participate in it? I can sum up my concerns about this element of the Bill by reiterating comments made by our former shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, who stated that the scheme was
“like stealing someone’s car and then offering them a lift to the bus stop.”
I have to confess that I am a little confused by the hon. Lady’s arguments. Is she saying that because the scheme will not target all 3.5 million people who may be eligible, the Government should do nothing? Despite the fact that it might be a partial success or that a large number of people might take up the scheme, she seems to be saying that because not everybody will take it up, this is not worth doing.
No, that is not what I am saying at all. It is important that we address this issue, but we have to be clear about how we do so. Dealing with the root causes of poverty and people’s inability to save is the first important thing that the Government need to look at, and then the second element they need to consider when rolling out the measures in the Bill is the specific groups they intend to target. If they do not target the 3.5 million people who are eligible to take part in the scheme, how will they help those who do not take part in it?
There is considerable unease about the lifetime ISA policy across the pensions industry, the trade union movement, the Office for Budget Responsibility and Select Committees of this House. The Opposition support the idea of incentivising people to save for the future, especially for retirement income, but we are concerned that the scheme could create a diversion from saving in traditional pension products, rather than being an add-on to one’s main pension plan. Even a former Pensions Minister stated that the LISA “could even destroy pensions”. The UK faces a pensions time bomb. Eleven million people are signed up to defined benefit schemes in 6,000 pension funds in the UK, but PricewaterhouseCoopers recently produced data showing that the collective deficit in those 6,000 schemes had risen by £100 billion in just one month so that it stood at £710 billion at the end of August. Earlier this year, the OECD reported that we were facing a “global pension crisis” in which a person buying an annuity today who had saved 10% of their wages into a pension for 40 years could expect just over half the earnings of someone who had saved the same amount but retired 15 years ago.
This situation is very worrying, especially when the state pension in its current form certainly cannot be relied on to plug the gap. Last week, the OBR published a report concluding that recent pensions and savings measures introduced or announced by the Government would create a £5 billion a year black hole in the public finances. The report states:
“The net effect on the public finances is positive in the early years, peaking at £2.3 billion in 2018-19 before turning negative from 2021-22—the year after our March 2016 forecast horizon…But the small net gain to the public finances from these measures over the medium-term is reversed in the long term as the net cost continues to rise, reaching £5 billion by 2034-35. Expressed as a share of GDP—a more relevant metric when considering fiscal sustainability—the net cost builds up until it reaches a steady state toward the end of the period of just over 0.1 per cent of GDP. If that steady-state effect was to continue to the end of our usual long-term projection horizon of 50 years, that seemingly small cost would add 3.7 per cent of GDP to public sector net debt.”
The report also said that these measures
“shifted incentives in a way that makes pensions saving less attractive—particularly for higher earners—and non-pension savings more attractive—often in ways that can most readily be taken up by the same higher earners.”
That is a pretty worrying assessment of the Government’s pensions and savings policy, in which the LISA will play a large part.
I am also worried about the level of assessment that the Government have carried out about the impact that the LISA could have on pension savings, and, more specifically, their auto-enrolment scheme. The Work and Pensions Committee has outlined its concerns about the threat to automatic enrolment in workplace pensions, the roll-out of which is having a great deal of success. The Committee was particularly worried about the risk of people opting out of a workplace pension in order to save in a LISA, thinking that it will be more of a beneficial pension savings product when it is not. The Committee highlighted extreme ambiguity about whether the LISA is intended to be a pension replacement.
As the House will recall, the previous Chancellor stated in his Budget speech that the LISA was for
“those under 40, many of whom have not had such a good deal from the pension system”.—[Official Report, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 966.]
That was something of an indication that this was a new-generation pensions product. On the other hand, the Department for Work and Pensions has stated that the LISA is
“not a part of the pension system but an additional flexible savings product”.
I am pleased that the Minister has, once and for all, clarified this point and stated that it is a complementary product. None the less, many witnesses who gave evidence to the Select Committee said that all indications so far suggested that the LISA was being interpreted as a pension product, including those from the Centre for Policy Studies, which actually developed the LISA and stated that many employees not already in a pension scheme would have to decide whether to save through a LISA or enrol in the pension scheme. Royal London stated that many people could in fact opt out of workplace pensions.
Will the Minister therefore confirm whether she has made any assessment of the impact of the LISA on automatic enrolment into workplace pensions? Will she confirm what safeguards will be put in place to ensure that people do not opt out of auto-enrolment? Will the Government mount a detailed advertising campaign, as suggested by the Select Committee, to ensure that people do not wrongly view the LISA as their main pension product? The Pensions Regulator has argued that by 2017, when the LISA is available, thousands of small and micro-businesses will not have rolled out auto-enrolment. Have the Government considered timing the LISA roll-out to coincide with the full completion of auto-enrolment to avoid the risks I have outlined?
It is acknowledged that LISAs will be successful among those who have savings elsewhere. There might simply be a case of them transferring those savings into LISAs, but will the Government provide the distributional analysis of the income groups who will specifically benefit the most? Will they confirm what impact the scheme will have on women and minority groups, especially, and therefore provide a much more detailed impact assessment, as the Work and Pensions Committee suggested? Will the Minister confirm what the Government will do to assess those groups that are not currently saving or unable to save, and what will they do to ensure that these people will be able to avail themselves of the scheme? The Select Committee has suggested that those who might benefit most from the scheme could be those who can afford to contribute to a pension scheme and deposit additional savings in a LISA to complement their retirement savings—higher earners, in other words. In these difficult economic times, Opposition Members question whether the scheme is an effective use of up to £2 billion of public funds.
Another concern is not simply that people will use the LISA as an alternative pension product, but that there will be nothing to stop them from taking the money early for other purposes, aside from as a deposit for a house. The Bill enforces a 25% charge for the early withdrawal of funds, which effectively removes the Government bonus, but people will not lose anything from their savings. That will therefore not be a significant deterrent from removing money early, so there is a significant risk for those who use the product as their sole pension income.
LISA funds may be used towards a deposit for a first home. That is not a bad thing, but the Government are failing to address the wider problems that are causing the housing crisis. There is no point having a deposit if there are no houses to buy. We need a significant private and social house building programme supported by the Government, not populist policy making. It is a shame that fewer new homes were built during the previous Parliament than under any peacetime Government since the 1920s. Labour has committed to build more than 1 million new homes over the next Parliament, and that is the level of intervention that is required of any Government who truly want to ensure that everyone can live in a decent and secure home.
Before my hon. Friend concludes her speech, may I suggest one further area on which Labour Front Benchers could press the Government in Committee? The Bill does not include a requirement that any employer should offer payroll deduction services, but that could help all savers, especially those on low and middle incomes. In that way, people could, if they wanted, have money deducted from their pay at source by their employer. Ideally that would go into a credit union, but it could go into any other source of savings. I suspect that that would create a significant boost to savings in this country.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point that Labour Front Benchers are considering in detail.
The Opposition have serious concerns about the policies in the Bill, as I have outlined, and I hope that the Minister will respond to my various queries. However, as I have confirmed, we support the overarching aim of encouraging people to save at a time when they are not doing so. There is significant room for improvement in the Bill, so we will try to amend and improve it as it makes its way through Parliament in the coming weeks to try to alleviate some of our stakeholders’ concerns about the possible effect of the lifetime ISA and the Help to Save scheme.
It is a pleasure to speak briefly on Second Reading and to support two schemes that are an excellent part of what should be a wider strategy to tackle a fundamental and chronic lack of saving in all age groups and all income levels in our country. I want to say a few words about the schemes themselves and then about the scale of the problem and what more the Government might like to do in the years to come to address a chronic issue that should trouble us all, particularly the Treasury.
The problem is greater than many of us like to imagine; the state of saving in this country is worse than we like to kid ourselves. I remember going to visit my grandparents when I was a child and seeing on their mantelpiece a jam jar in which they used to put sixpences to save up for things such as a holiday to Blackpool and for rainy days, should things have got worse. Back then, I think they were the only people on their street who did that and who could afford the coach to Blackpool once a year. I think that my grandmother would put half a crown in a box just below the sofa, to save up for something or other every year, such as a new chair or stool for the house.
That seems like another country and another age—something that could never happen nowadays, when we are all so much richer and have so much greater access to spending. Of course, the statistics—we have heard some of them already—show that that is not the case at all.
Those experiences come from a time before the rise of hire purchase, credit cards, overdrafts and mortgages, all of which, although they have brought with them problems and difficulties that we have to cope with, have created a safety net of sorts against the real fragility that previous generations used to feel, going back as long as anyone can remember. The historian in me thinks of medieval, Georgian and Victorian times, when people used to feel that they were living fragile lives because they could fall from what were then called respectable lives into abject poverty purely as a result of ill fate, including illness, losing a job and having an unscrupulous landlord.
We like to think that those things could not happen today, but, of course, they can, and the statistics that we have heard from both Front Benchers show that very clearly. A quarter of households have less than £1,100 in their total financial assets, and debts of more than £3,500. One in 10 of us has available savings—rainy day money in the jam jar on the mantelpiece—of less than £100. That means less than £100 if someone happens to lose their job, if their company goes bust or if they were in the private rented sector and had an unscrupulous landlord. That should make us all very worried indeed.
Even beyond the poorest in society—those who should be very concerned about short-term saving—there is a crisis in long-term saving, and it looks more and more like an impending disaster for the country. We are all—rich and poor, young and old alike—simply not saving anything like enough.
The latest Deloitte survey shows that, by 2050, the retirement savings gap—the difference between what people will save and what they need to save, if they want to have a reasonable standard of life in retirement—will be £350 billion, which is an increase of £32 billion from five years ago, despite the many measures introduced by the previous Administration and the coalition. On average, each of us has to put away an extra £10,000 every year to avoid what we could think of as a miserable old age. Even people on middle and higher earnings—including all of us in this Chamber—would probably struggle to do that, if we want to pay our mortgages, bring up our children and enjoy a reasonable standard of living in the interim years.
One reason for that, among others, is that we are living much longer. Not only will future Governments struggle to maintain current levels of state pension payment, but we are spending longer in retirement and the cost of retirement income has risen. The latest BlackRock survey calculated that for a 70-year-old male to buy £1 of retirement income via an annuity would have cost £6 in 1970, but today it would cost £12. The cost of retiring is rising dramatically. We all know this, but it is worth underlining that we need a fundamental change in our cultural attitudes towards money and saving.
Many of us in the Scottish National party would agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said so far. However, the argument against the lifetime ISA is that far from encouraging extra saving, it diverts existing savings from pensions into housing and stokes up the housing market. It does not actually resolve the problem that he has described so eloquently.
I am interested in the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I will say more about the lifetime ISA in a moment. The point of it is that many of us in our 20s and 30s—I am just about in that category—are more preoccupied with getting on the housing ladder than we are with looking out for our retirement, and that is a major worry for the Government and for future Governments. The lifetime ISA is flexible, however, because it enables people to spend money in the early years to try to get on the housing ladder, and later to convert the product into something else with a view to retirement. The hon. Gentleman raises a major problem, and we need to look at many solutions; this, I am afraid, is only one.
There needs to be a fundamental change in all our attitudes. We should not purely seek instant gratification; we, as individuals, and the Government must promote ways in which to defer gratification through saving, in contrast to our present, quite corrosive, consumer attitude.
I warmly welcome the lifetime ISA. It is an extremely popular product and there has been a lot of interest in it. I do not represent a particularly wealthy constituency— the average wage is just below the national average—but many of my constituents have said to me that they would like to take up the lifetime ISA. Clearly, offering a 25% top-up as well as the usual tax advantages of an ISA gives us all a strong incentive to save. ISAs are popular, as we know from the millions of people who have taken them up over the years. Contrary to some of the comments that we have heard today and comments in the press, ISAs are simple. We all understand them, and they are part of our saving culture.
I welcomed the news in April that the limit would be raised on the standard ISA from £15,000 to £20,000 a year. That might sound like a great deal of money to many people, but as the problem of insufficient saving affects all income levels, it is an important measure. This is an exciting development for those of us—particularly the younger generation—who will not benefit from generous final salary pension schemes. Although the scheme is not intended to take over from pensions, it creates more flexibility in the sector. Under the previous Chancellor, we saw that across a whole range of issues to do with pensions, flexibility is key.
The lifetime ISA will help younger people to save for a deposit, which is, as we all know, the primary preoccupation of every young person with more than a basic level of income. If this vehicle allows us to help any of them to get on to the housing ladder and then to convert to a product that will help them to save for the rest of their working lives, it will be very useful.
Help to Save explicitly does the same job for those on very low incomes. I appreciate that there are many people, including many in my own constituency, for whom saving seems like another country; it is extremely difficult for them to do. But the alternative is to do nothing and to accept that we live in a country where people cannot save in that jam jar, and where the Government cannot create mechanisms to incentivise them to do so and top up what they have saved. The 50% contribution rate is clearly a great incentive, which we should all appreciate and welcome.
Rather as the IFS has said, it would be helpful for the Government to do more work on understanding which groups are the most critical in terms of saving, and to develop more products that specifically target the core group that we are most worried about—the people who have only £100 or £1000 in the bank as a rainy day fund. That is a very worrying state of affairs.
What else should I raise? One area we should look at is savings interest tax. I am in favour of simple and bold tax reforms that will not complicate the already far too complicated tax code even further, but send everyone in society the extremely clear message that the Government believe we need to save more and will back that up with action. I would strongly welcome a further move to take more people out of paying savings interest tax. The announcement in April, creating a £1,000 threshold for those on the basic rate and a £500 threshold for higher rate taxpayers—was excellent, and we should look at more changes, not least because current levels of interest rates are so pitifully low that the Government are receiving very little, and rapidly declining, tax revenues from savings income. In 2013-14, the income to the Treasury was £2.8 billion, but it is estimated to be £1.1 billion this year and to continue to decline further. Those are obviously large sums, but what would create a greater incentive and give a stronger signal than to say that we will no longer charge tax on savings interest?
My last point is simply to reiterate the one made in debates in recent weeks, which is that interest rates are too low in this country. That has had a very corrosive impact on pensioners and anyone trying to save in this country, on the gap between the rich and the poor, and on the wider economy. I, like many others, was delighted to hear the Prime Minister imply in her speech in Birmingham that she would like to take action on this matter.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful application to serve on the Public Bill Committee. Given his point about low interest rates, does he not share the concern of many outside the House—indeed, it is a concern of mine—about the fact that the qualifying period to get the Government’s bonus payment under the Help to Save scheme is two years, rather than just 12 months? Would not a shorter period be a further and more sensible incentive to get people saving more quickly?
I listened to the hon. Gentleman’s intervention earlier, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that. We want to create as many incentives as possible for everybody—from the rich to the poor, from the young to the old—to save because, as I hope I have made the principal point of my remarks, this country is facing a crisis and we all need to take responsibility for it.
On interest rates, the Bank of England now needs to take action. I did not believe there was any real cause to lower interest rates earlier this summer. It misread the initial signals after the referendum and acted too soon. We have already seen that the consequences of the referendum, at least in the short term, will not be as severe as it imagined. I hope the Bank of England—of course, it is independent—does not reduce interest rates further, and that we can now move away from the policy of quantitative easing as soon as possible for many reasons, but particularly for the sake of pensioners and savers.
I want the Government to create a long-term strategy on saving that tries to change the culture in this country towards looking to the future and putting money aside. The Government need to back that in many ways, some of which will involve extremely difficult decisions. One of those decisions will, of course, be to continue to raise the state pension age to protect the triple lock, which I would like to happen as soon as possible. The two schemes we are considering today are excellent. I fully support them, and I hope that they will be the first of many from the new Administration.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). I was interested that he closed by talking about a long-term savings plan for the Government. I suppose the long-term economic plan has crashed and burned, so they need another anachronism that they can use for the future.
SNP Members welcome any reasonable proposals that encourage savings—we will work, where we can, with the UK Government to seek to encourage pension savings—but we very much see the Bill as a missed opportunity for us all to champion what we should be focusing on, which is strengthening pensions savings. Instead we have another wheeze that emanated from the laboratory of ideas of the previous Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), and his advisers, who had form on constantly tinkering with the savings landscape. The right hon. Gentleman may have gone from the Front Bench, but his memory lingers on with this Bill.
Let us recall what the former Chancellor said in his Budget speech this year:
“too many young people in their 20s and 30s have no pension and few savings. Ask them and they will tell you why. It is because they find pensions too complicated and inflexible, and most young people face an agonising choice of either saving to buy a home or saving for their retirement.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 966.]
The problem was that that assertion was not backed up by evidence, and it was half-baked. Young people under the age of 30 have the lowest level of opt-out rates of all those who have been automatically enrolled into workplace pensions. Department for Work and Pensions research found that for under-30s the opt-out rate is 8%, compared with 9% for 30 to 49-year-olds and 50% for those aged 50 and over. One would have thought that the Chancellor and the Minister had looked at the DWP evidence and recognised that the assertion behind the justification for these measures is quite simply wrong. The fundamental principle, that young people are not saving for a pension when presented with a solution for pension saving such as auto-enrolment, is wrong. After much effort, automatic enrolment has been successful in encouraging young people to save. We must not undermine those efforts by inadvertently encouraging people to opt out and confusing consumers with new, competing products. As has been stated by the likes of Zurich Insurance:
“There is a real danger that the LISA could significantly derail auto-enrolment and reverse the progress made in encouraging people to save for later life.”
I agree with that. Why would we want to undermine pension savings?
Of course we know that the Treasury has flown kites on moving from the existing arrangements for pensions—exempt, exempt, tax—to considering tax, exempt, exempt. That would have a drastic impact on incentivising pension savings, but clearly from the Government’s point of view it would mean higher tax receipts today rather than pensions being taxed on exit. This is a wheeze from the previous Chancellor to deliver higher taxation income today, rather than taxing consumption in the future—a modern day reverse Robin Hood.
Is it not the case that when this idea was kicked into the long grass along came the Chancellor with proposals to achieve the same ends through the backdoor? Is this the first step to moving towards tax, exempt, exempt? If it is, the Government should come clean. If they do so, we on the Scottish National party Benches will vigorously oppose it, because it would amount to an attack on pension savings. We should recall, after all, that it was Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, who raided pension schemes with his dividend tax changes—an attack that seriously undermined defined benefit pension schemes in particular.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that what Gordon Brown did when he was Prime Minister—taxing pension schemes—was catastrophic? I know that, because I had a pension scheme and stopped paying into it.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that that was the beginning of the end for defined benefit pension schemes in this country. At the time, just about every company in the FTSE 100 had a defined benefit pension scheme. There are hardly any today. My criticism of what the Government are doing with the Bill is that they are once again undermining pension saving. I will come on to the facts of the matter. We cannot get away from this: anybody saving into a pension does so out of pre-tax income. Anybody investing in the LISA will be doing so out of taxed income. That is unfair and unjust. As I mentioned earlier, this is more about a wheeze for the Government to generate taxation income. It is wrong and they should not be doing it without proper incentives for the young people they are targeting.
We would resist any further attempts to undermine pension saving and, specifically, to change the tax status of pension savings. That would be little more than an underhand way of driving up tax receipts—sweet talking workers to invest after-tax income in LISAs when their interests are best served by investing in pensions. We have considerable challenges in ensuring that we take appropriate action and provide the right kind of leadership to encourage pension savings above all else. That is not happening under this Conservative Government. Pension savings are the most tax-efficient arrangement for savers and that is what we ought to prioritise
We also need to revisit the issue of pension tax relief to make it fairer to pension savers. Many commentators and providers, such as Zurich, have suggested that a flat rate of pension tax relief could increase saving among low earners. While ensuring pensions remain an attractive investment for higher earners, it would be inherently fairer. Coupled with auto-enrolment, it would give a powerful boost to the pensions of millions of workers and help the vast majority of people to save more for retirement. It would also end the complexity of the current regime and set tax relief at a sustainable level for the longer term. That kind of approach rather flies in the face of what the Minister has signed off in the impact assessment, which states:
“The government could have done nothing more, relying on existing tax incentives to promote saving among younger people and working families on low income. However, this would have failed to provide the necessary level of support for those who are unable to use existing support to plan and save for their future.”
This is bunkum. Tax relief can be addressed, as I have said, but we must also take into account the fact that a review of auto-enrolment is due in 2017. We can strengthen auto-enrolment to deliver inclusion and encourage pension saving. We want to work with the Government to strengthen auto-enrolment and pension savings, which are the most efficient way for young people to save.
Just today, as we debate the Bill, the Financial Times has published an article highlighting new analysis on pension savings conducted by Aon. The analysis concluded that UK pension savings have a massive deficit of £11 billion a year. A poll of 2,000 pension savers indicates that only 16% of workers are saving enough to maintain their standard of living when they stop work. Why on earth do we want to take attention away, through the Bill the Government are bringing forward, from pension savings? Why are we not focusing on what we should be doing: fixing the problems in the pension industry? That is the priority of those of us on the SNP Benches.
The Aon analysis suggests that members of defined contribution schemes on average need to pay an extra £1,400 a year to achieve a decent retirement income. That is what we should be addressing in this Chamber here tonight. My message to the Government is this: let us all work together to tackle the under-investment in pension savings, to deal with the many challenges we face, and to enhance the attractions of pension savings. That is the priority. Today, too many people are excluded from workplace pensions.
I commend the introduction of auto-enrolment, but recognise that more needs to be done to enhance auto-enrolment and seek to offer affordable solutions to the low-paid, women and the self-employed who, to use the Prime Minister’s term, have been left behind. We need to tackle the issue of those who are currently excluded, such as the 20% of workers who earn less than £10,000 a year. We need to make sure we have an inclusive approach to pension savings that works for all workers.
The average value of conventional ISAs held by those aged between 25 and 34 is £5,186. The annual allowance for the lifetime ISA as proposed is £4,000, so from experience of ISAs this question needs to be addressed: who exactly will benefit? It looks like yet another policy to benefit the rich who can afford to save at such a level and therefore get the full benefits of the Government bonus. So much for the sermon from the Prime Minister about delivering policies for those left behind. It looks to us more like the same old policies for the benefit of the wealthy. When we look at the news today we see that the UK is looking to spend billions of pounds for the City to access the single market—and we should not be surprised. It is yet another case of the poor subsidising the rich.
We need to address the unintended consequences of quantitative easing, which has driven down yields, moderating expectations of future growth for pension funds and substantially increasing the deficit for many defined pension schemes, as the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) mentioned. If we add to that the decline in annuity rates, which is cutting expectations of pensioner income, it means that savers have to increase their contributions to defined contribution schemes. This makes for a challenging environment for pension savers, which needs to be addressed.
On 11 July, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), said that
“there is a very real systemic issue with DB pension schemes that we need to look at, and my Department will be discussing it further in the months ahead.”—[Official Report, 11 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 10.]
Since that statement, there has been silence from the Government. Where is the response to the fundamental challenges for today’s pensions and, as some might argue, the crisis in both defined benefit and defined contribution schemes?
We know of the significant factors affecting the BHS and British Steel schemes, and we know that hundreds of other schemes are facing significant deficits. Rather than seeing the Government face up to these challenges and the threat to the many beneficiaries of the schemes, we see a missed opportunity to tackle what ought to be the priorities. When will the Government respond in detail to what the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions admitted, which we all know to be the case? I give the Minister the opportunity to intervene and tell us what the Government have done since the announcement of the previous Secretary of State. Where is the Government’s response? What do they have to say about the deficit on defined pension schemes? I see Government Members on the Front Bench looking down, but we need answers. What we get from this Government is no action.
I draw the House’s attention to the fact that we had DWP questions earlier today, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to put his question then.
That was a politic answer. I cannot help but remark that I asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions a question earlier today, which was enlightening in itself. I asked a question about the WASPI women. I raised a specific point, saying that the SNP had put proposals in front of this Government as we were asked to do. We said that we could deal with the WASPI issue by spending £8 million, which, by the way, the Government could afford to spend because there is a surplus of nearly £30 billion sitting in the national insurance fund. What was the answer we got from the Secretary of State? It was to get the Scottish Government to do that. What he failed to realise is that this House has not given the Scottish Parliament the responsibility for pensions. Why not do that now, then? The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government would certainly take responsibility for pensions and for pensioners, which this Government are walking away from.
Nothing is being done by this Government. They are like rabbits caught in headlights. That is exactly what we got when the Financial Secretary intervened just now. This is a Government who have no answers to the real issues and the real problems that affect us in the pension landscape. They have been caught doing nothing in the face of systemic risk, which the Government themselves recognise. The Financial Secretary turned around and said, “It is not for me, but for the Department for Work and Pensions”. Well, I am sorry, but she is a Minister of the Government, and this is a Government responsibility. She should be coming to this place with answers.
We also need to recognise that although this Bill will help some savers, it does little to help those who cannot afford to save for later life. Of course, we have had the benefit of the Work and Pensions Select Committee holding an inquiry into the effect of the lifetime ISA on auto-enrolment. Evidence from the Association of British Insurers stated:
“Presented as a choice, no employee will be better off saving into a Lifetime ISA than they would under automatic enrolment. This is due to the loss of employer contributions.”
A recent Standard Life analysis shows that the typical gain from tax breaks and minimum employer top-ups to a qualifying workplace pension for a basic rate taxpayer is between 70% and 85%, compared with the return of 25% from a LISA. That is the con that this Government are trying to inflict on the people of this country. The long-term cost of forgoing annual employer contributions worth 3% of salary by saving into a LISA instead of a workplace pension would be substantial. For a basic rate taxpayer, the impact would be savings of roughly one third less by the age of 60. For example, an employee earning £25,000 per annum and saving 4% of their income each year would see a difference in excess of £53,000. After 42 years, someone saving through a pension scheme would have a pot worth £166,289.99 at a growth rate of 3%. Under a LISA at the same growth rate the value would be £112,646.75. Is the Minister going to defend this?
My hon. Friend is making a really important point about the advantages of pension saving over the new LISA, but does he share my concern that the real beneficiary of the LISA will not be people on low and middle incomes, but exceptionally rich people looking for a tax-efficient way to save very large amounts in a year?
My hon. Friend is spot on. Those who are already investing large amounts into pension schemes and perhaps approaching the cap will be turning around and saying, “Thank you very much.” This is not a policy for low and middle-income workers; this is a policy for the rich. It is the same old thing from this Tory Government who learn nothing. No wonder they are so out of touch in Scotland and no wonder that they have only one Member of Parliament in Scotland when they do not do the right thing for the pensioners in our country.
There are clear risks for young people in taking the wrong decisions if they do not get appropriate advice—something that is lacking from these proposals. Will the Government make it clear that young people will be advised of the likely outcomes of opting for a LISA over pension savings? If not, why not?
The SNP is supportive of any initiative that promotes savings for later life, but the LISA is simply a gimmick that benefits only those who can afford to save to the levels demanded by the Government to get the bonus. Help to Save is another example. We agree that working to encourage savings is welcome, but in this case again, the UK Government have only scratched the surface rather than really targeting those who are struggling to plan for emergencies or later life. Individuals eligible for Help to Save have only limited resources for saving by definition, and they will now have more difficult choices to make between medium-term savings and longer-term aspirations.
The very fact that the Government expect the policy to cost only £70 million in 2020-21 implies that the Government top-up will, on average, be only £20 per eligible individual in that year. Yes, £20—that is what this Government are proposing in this Bill. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has taken the view that Help to Save is poorly targeted, and it questioned the purpose of the scheme, stating:
“There is also a deeper and critical question about which groups are really ‘under-saving’. The key justification for giving a household extra money only if it places funds in a savings account, rather than giving it extra money regardless and letting the household decide what to do with it, is that we have reason to believe that the household is saving less than is ‘appropriate’ given its circumstances.”
The charity StepChange found through its work with poorer families and those with existing problem debt that four in 10 people struggling to save experience an income shock, such as a broken boiler or car repairs, at least every six months; that 60% of those facing an income shock turned to borrowing; and that a third of them cut back on essentials such as food to cover the costs. It found that half a million families could avoid problem debt if they had £1,000 of savings.
Responding to the Government’s consultation on Help to Save, the charity had three concerns: the proposed two-year period over which a Help to Save account will run may disincentivise applicants, and the Government should think “very carefully” about the way in which the scheme is advertised, in order to minimise a potential problem caused by the perception of a rigid two-year account length; the Treasury should amend the eligibility criteria so that those aged under 25 who work at least 30 hours a week can apply for a Help to Save account; and the Treasury should look closely at the debt-collection and insolvency implications of the scheme, and the Government should protect money in Help to Save accounts from third-party debt orders or insolvency proceedings. The charity concluded:
“At the very least any bonus accrued should be protected.”
Once again, we have seen a missed opportunity to tackle the pension saving deficit head on. While helping some, the Bill does little for those who cannot afford to save for later life. The Government must be much more ambitious if they are to deliver real dignity in retirement. We do not intend to oppose the Bill tonight, for which I am sure the House will be grateful, but we will seek to deal with the missed opportunities and to strengthen the Bill in Committee.
I hesitate to detain the House by repeating much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) in his thoughtful speech, but I particularly wanted to speak in support of the Help to Save scheme, which seems to be the Cinderella scheme in today’s debate.
Rare is the politician who understands the difference between profit and loss and the balance sheet. That is normally left to dull accountants like me. We spend a great deal of time in the House talking about people’s differential profit-and-loss accounts—the difference in earnings, and whether some members of society earn far too much in comparison with others—and we do a fair amount in trying to close that gap. However, we often fail to recognise that the solution to those inequalities in society, and the solution to the problem of poverty more generally, are first multi-generational and secondly as much about the balance sheet—the asset share that those people may have for the future—as about how much they happen to earn at the moment. Anything that enables people with low incomes, who may be on benefits or the like but who are certainly at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, to start to get the idea of saving and, in particular, investing the money saved in assets can only be applauded.
One of our problems in this country is that the collective balance sheet—the assets held both privately and publicly—is concentrated in far too few hands. Over the last 20 or so years there has been a diminution in the number of people who own shares or, indeed, have any asset base, even ownership of their houses. We need to reverse that, but sadly it has been far too low on Ministers’ agendas. A good example is the sell-off of the Post Office. The retail tranche of sales—the shares that were to be sold to members of the public in small lots—was scaled back, while the tranche that was being sold to large institutions such as Goldman Sachs was inflated. It seemed insane that a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, in particular, would do that. There was a lost opportunity to spread what was known back in the 1980s, in the heyday of a certain politician, as the “ownership society”. The former Member of Parliament for Richmond, Yorks, William Hague, said that we should be a share-owning, property-owning society, and should roll back the frontiers of the state to enable that to happen.
I am keen for Help to Save to be promoted, because it allows people with very low incomes, or no incomes at all, to start thinking about their own asset bases and start saving for the future. However, I should like the Minister to consider a couple of issues. First, I do not understand why there is a cap on the amount that can be contributed. If someone earning a very low wage is able to contribute £20 a week or £20 a month year in, year out, why should we seek to limit that? Why should we not allow such people to build up a fund which they could use in the future, possibly passing it on to their children, who might then decide to do the same? Secondly, £50 seems a rather small amount to me, particularly for someone who is starting to build up an amount and getting into the spirit of saving. Thirdly, especially in the current interest-rate environment, requiring people to hold their savings in cash strikes me as self-defeating. Allowing them to go to their banks and buy, for instance, shares in Marks & Spencer or Royal Bank of Scotland—when, hopefully, they become available—would give them the idea that they could benefit from the country’s asset base.
It is worth noting that, when it comes to the lump sums that people want to accumulate over their lives, their aspirations are often quite modest. Many years ago a great friend of mine who works in television was devising a new quiz show, and wanted to establish what prize money he should offer so that he could deal with the show’s finances. A survey was conducted, and people in the United Kingdom were asked what amount constituted “change your life money”. In this age of the lottery, my friend thought that the answer would be hundreds of thousands of pounds, but in fact it was just over £6,000. That is what the vast bulk of British people thought was “change your life money” which would give them the chance to start to build for the future.
The Money Advice Service recently found that 21 million families had less than £500 in savings. What does my hon. Friend think about the lack of financial literacy and money management skills among people who do not have the techniques and the basic understanding that would enable them to manage their personal finances?
My hon. Friend has touched on an interesting issue. What she has said reflects one of the observations made by the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Over the past three or four decades people have, perhaps, been infantilised in respect of the financial choices that they make, and politicians in the House of Commons may have sought to make their choices for them. Personally, I would like the opportunity to decide between a lifetime ISA, a pension and a normal ISA, for instance, but then I am a chartered accountant of moderate skill—deeply moderate; I resigned on the day I qualified for exactly that reason—but I recognise that plenty of people feel confused and are unable to do so. We have taken the power away from them over the years, and we must start to reverse that. We must either put choice back into their hands, or educate them so that they can make those choices in the future. The financial world is becoming ever more complicated, and if people are to do well out of it—particularly those on lower incomes—they will need to have that kind of knowledge.
Another reason why people should take an interest in acquiring assets rather than the mere ins and outs of their monthly incomes is the fact that a number have missed out, recently in particular, on what could have been a big upswing in their wealth. Brexit has seen a massive rise in the stock market, and anyone who has had stocks and shares over the last couple of months will have done extremely well. Similarly, the housing market has risen prodigiously over the last three or four years.
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that there has been a massive 16% decline in the value of sterling over the last couple of months? Moreover, the fact that the market has risen as much as it has is due, quite simply, to the overseas earnings of United Kingdom companies. It is not that the world thinks the United Kingdom has become a more investable case; indeed, some would argue that it has become a basket case.
I entirely agree that overseas earnings are rising. That is why the stock market has increased so significantly, and I think that is a good thing. I am proud to say that I voted “out”. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman thinks should be the level of the pound, but I think it should be at a level that increases our overseas earnings, means that people will re-shore manufacturing—because it is now more expensive for goods to be made overseas—and helps our exporters. I cannot see that that is anything other than beneficial for a country that is carrying a massive current account deficit.
The point that I am trying to make, however, is that 40 or perhaps 30 years ago many more people were investing in the stock market by buying shares in British Gas and all the privatised industries, and those people would have been benefiting from the present upswing. I am proud to ask my postman how his shares are doing every time I see him, and I should like to be able to say the same to most people on low incomes.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should ask his postman how much his holiday will cost him next year. There is a real problem for the United Kingdom, which is that inflation is now going to increase. We have already seen the impact of the likes of Unilever seeking to pass on 10% price increases. At a time when wage growth in the United Kingdom is limited, we have choked off next year’s consumption. That is the effect of Brexit. This is not about wealth; it is about an economy that has been damaged by the Brexiters.
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I disagree with him. I hesitate to get into a bit of economic argy-bargy in this debate—I was hoping to keep my comments short—but inflation is currently running at 0.6%, and as a result we have extremely low interest rates. The Bank of England’s target is 2%. I am pleased that the low pound may help it to get to that level because there is no doubt that low inflation, or a deflationary environment in real terms, is extremely damaging to the economy. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the effect he desires of the drop in the pound has happened: my wife and I decided just this week that this February half-term we would go to Scotland on holiday rather than overseas. We would like to explore the glorious land of his birth. I hope that more and more British consumers will do the same. We may even see the rejuvenation of the tourism industry in lovely places such as Blackpool.
The hon. Gentleman has set out three concerns, if I remember rightly, about Help to Save. I wonder whether he shares my view and that of the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) that the Government need to do more to explain why they think there should be a two-year qualifying period for the Government bonus for Help to Save, as opposed to just 12 months.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government should look at exactly that. The barriers to saving that are in the way of people on low incomes should be removed as much as possible. I like his suggestion that people should be able opt to save out of their payroll—that employers should make the deduction. I like anything that makes it painless. The Government opt for PAYE because it takes our taxes away from us painlessly; we do not actually have to give them over. Doing the same with savings would be a good idea.
Throughout my life, my granny, until she sadly died when she was 94, put £5 every month in a post office savings account for me. She gave the savings to me on my 21st birthday. I have always been grateful for that money. I still have it sitting in that savings account. I hope and believe that I will be able to pass it on to my three children as a sign of what can be done by putting £5 away every month—a sign of the change that is possible from the first generation, from the back streets of Harrogate, to me now as a Member of Parliament.
It is a pleasure—on this occasion anyway—to follow the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse). I rise in particular to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and to dwell on a number of the points that I have made in interventions.
The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who speaks for the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and my hon. Friend, in particular, addressed the scale of the savings crisis. In their own different ways, they underlined the need to do a lot more to encourage those on low and modest incomes to save. It is in that spirit that I gently underline, in this, I hope, more substantive contribution, the need for the Government to look afresh at their decision on Help to Save.
The Government have decided that they will make their bonus payment after two years, as opposed to 12 months. The hon. Member for Newark talked about the person who has only £100 in their bank account and dwelt on the difficulties they have saving. Two years is a long time. I think of a constituent of mine who does the right thing and is working. She is a teaching assistant and therefore on a low income. She has faced, given the scale of the housing crisis, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles rightly alluded, significant increases in rent, and she struggles to manage her income and to pay all her bills. She is surely exactly the sort of person we would want to benefit from a scheme such as Help to Save, but I suspect that, if she thought that she was not going to get any benefit from her savings for two years, the struggle to make ends meet in the intervening period would be a significant disincentive to her setting even small amounts of money aside in a savings account. I share the concern of others that the scheme will benefit only those on in-work benefits. Again, I encourage the Government to be a little more imaginative on the scheme.
I understand and see the logic of the Government’s need to have a Help to Save implementer with national coverage. Clearly, the Government have failed to persuade traditional banks or big financial players to offer the scheme, so I can see the attraction of NS&I. What I fail to understand is why credit unions cannot be allowed to offer the service to communities in their areas alongside NS&I. I hope that the Government will reconsider that point.
I have the great privilege of chairing the all-party group on mutuals. I commend the contribution of the Building Societies Association which, in its comments on the lifetime ISA and its briefing for the debate, shares the concern that others have expressed about the risk of the lifetime ISA conflating savings for a house deposit and savings for retirement in one product. Again, there are concerns that the scale of withdrawal charges will be punitive. I hope that the Minister will pick up those two points.
I welcome the support of the hon. Member for North West Hampshire for the idea of making payroll deduction a statutory right. He is right to say that the Government have a statutory right to take tax through PAYE, so why should they not also support a statutory right to allow people, with their employers, to save through a credit union, a standard mutual or a mainstream bank product?
Giving people the right to payroll deduction would be of huge long-term benefit. Many of the credit unions that are highly successful underline regularly how important the facility of payroll deduction is to their ability to offer financial services, particularly in the savings context, to their members. For a while, one issue prevented an armed forces credit union from being established. When one considers that before credit unions came along often the only products that were available for those serving in our armed forces on comparatively low incomes were those offered by legal loan sharks—the payday lenders charging huge sums of interest—one understands the scale of the benefit that credit unions are beginning to offer to armed forces personnel.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has a reputation as a shrewd and effective operator around Whitehall. Now that she is in the Treasury, she has even more power at her disposal. Many parts of government, whether Whitehall directly, agencies outside Whitehall, the NHS, individual academies, academy chains or indeed some parts of local government, still do not offer payroll deduction services for credit unions that want to serve their employees. One thing the Minister could do if she is not immediately persuaded—I hope she will be by the time the Bill completes its passage—would be to use the weight of the Treasury to encourage all Whitehall Departments to check that every bit of government for which they are responsible allows payroll deduction and lets credit unions offer savings and other financial services to their employees. If the police can offer payroll deduction services—many police officers and other police staff are signed up to credit unions—and if our armed forces can do it, why cannot all of government offer this service? I therefore hope the Minister will not only lead a drive on allowing payroll deduction, but will be willing to contemplate amending the Bill to make payroll deduction a statutory right.
It is worth reflecting briefly on the appetite across the House for more diverse financial markets. Arguably, one of the reasons why organisations within the financial services community can sometimes make high charges for their services is that there is not enough competition. Encouraging more savings through building societies, and in particular trying to build up the credit union sector, is surely something that every Treasury Bill, and indeed every Government Bill, should have at the back of its mind. Might there be an opportunity to encourage more tax incentives for savers? The armed forces credit union has been established. Why should there not be tax incentives to encourage more of our soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to sign up and support that credit union, and benefit from its services?
I thank my fellow Co-operative MP for giving way and apologise for not being able to be in the Chamber to hear the whole debate—I was at another debate in Westminster Hall. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend’s remarks and pay tribute to his work on the armed forces credit union. I will certainly support the amendment that he suggests tabling. Does he agree that we should also look at countries such as Canada and Germany, where there is diversity in savings, and where much stronger credit unions are available to a much wider group of the population?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many financial services markets around the world are far more diverse than the UK’s, and therefore far more competitive. We need to build up our building societies and other mutuals such as credit unions, and further tax incentives that encourage saving and taking up other financial services through mutuals can only be a good thing.
I have no intention of voting against the Bill, but I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles. I hope that both Front-Bench teams will reflect on my suggested amendments and that we will see progress on the concerns that they address during the Bill’s passage.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) on his comments, particularly those about the Help to Save product the Government are introducing. He talked about the Government looking at the role of credit unions and whether it would be possible to use payroll. It would be helpful if the Ministers, whom I welcome to the Chamber, commented on those matters, as well as some of the IFS criticisms and the very helpful Library briefing.
I want to focus on the Government’s lifetime ISA. We should not question its intentions. Its simple aim is to increase savings among the young and to help more people on to the housing ladder, and surely none of us can have any objection to that in principle. The difficulty is that we do not, of course, start with a blank sheet of paper, and adding yet more products to the already complicated savings landscape risks bringing unintended consequences. I want to focus on that risk.
As the Library briefing rather coyly puts it, over the past 25 years, a string of largely tax-based savings incentive schemes has been brought in under different Governments. Some Members will remember the stakeholder scheme, yet not many will perhaps now remember personal equity plans, tax-exempt special savings accounts, child trust funds—they ceased not that long ago—or indeed the saving gateway, which was never rolled out nationally. When we consider the lifetime ISA and what it is proposed that it will achieve, we must also bear in mind what other savings products exist.
Under the general heading of “savings” I include pensions; they are simply a particular form of savings designed primarily to provide people with adequate income in retirement. Of course as we live ever longer, the value of having those savings, lasting well beyond an age to which people were expected to live not long ago, becomes more important. The Government have a crucial role to play as the body that will prop up all or any of us when we run out of savings. I want to focus on a couple of things within the product range of savings and the potential unintended consequences of this Bill.
The LISA was introduced in this year’s Budget after the Chancellor said that it was clear there was no consensus on the future development of pensions. But in a sense he revealed his own hand by increasing the ISA limit and proposing the introduction of the lifetime ISA. This showed the Treasury’s direction of travel very clearly. It is no surprise that the Centre for Policy Studies has welcomed this ISA since, it says, it is similar to a proposal made in the past. Indeed, Michael Johnson at the CPS has been advocating the end of pensions for a long time. I have described him as the Guy Fawkes of the pensions industry—he would love to blow the whole thing up tomorrow if he could. The lifetime ISA was just one of his steps towards that goal, with a workplace ISA coming in next.
That is where some of the problems start. The Chancellor’s main underlying argument for introducing the LISA was that younger people did not understand pensions—that they were far too complicated and were not popular and therefore we needed to use the well-known brand of the ISA. I have clashed many times with the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford)—mostly happily—on pensions issues. His contributions are normally way over the top, as, unsurprisingly, they were again this evening. However, he was right to use the quotation in the Association of British Insurers briefing, demonstrating that, interestingly, the opt-out rates in auto-enrolment among the under-30s have been the lowest of all age groups. That arguably suggests that younger people do not necessarily find pensions complicated when they are provided with a solution in the workplace into which they, their employer and the Government can all contribute and the paperwork is easy. So pensions do not have to be any more complex than any other form of savings, but what makes the whole sector more complicated is the constant temptation of successive Chancellors to act as product designer for the industry and introduce yet more different products.
I am a little puzzled by my hon. Friend’s use of the statistic that the under-30s have the lowest opt-out rate. The under-30s will of course become the over-30s and the over-40s, and they might well opt out at that point. Their continuing to opt in at this early stage, when they might not have quite so much pressure on their wage packet, is not necessarily indicative of what they will do in the future.
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly reasonable point, but he should bear in mind the fact that opt-out rates were expected to be 25% and are averaging 9% so far. The Government’s expectations about opt-out rates have therefore, happily, been proved wrong. He is right to say that the under-30s will become the over-30s, but we should all be trying to encourage those people to stay in and build up their savings through the pensions scheme, rather than introducing a competitive product that could, for various marketing reasons, seem more attractive and therefore divert people of all ages from the good and noble cause, which I think he supports, of building up more savings for their retirement.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that auto-enrolment has been an enormous success, and that one reason for that success has been the relatively low opt-out rates? Does he also agree, however, that there is more to be done to ensure that we include low-paid workers, particularly women and the self-employed? That should be the focus, but the tragedy of the Bill is that it deflects attention from what we should be doing—namely, incentivising pension saving.
That is an interesting point. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that auto-enrolment is not good for the self-employed, and there are other aspects of it, including women’s savings, that could be improved. Yes, there has been success, but my “yes” is a cautious one. After all, auto-enrolment has not been going for very long. The real test will be over the next couple of years when up to 4 million people could come into the scheme, taking it from roughly 6.9 million savers at the moment to more than 10 million fairly soon. We will have to see whether they come in with the same enthusiasm as did those who work for larger employers. My point is that introducing the lifetime ISA at this stage, before we know how smaller employers and their employees are going to react, risks undermining the success of auto-enrolment so far.
In 2005, the Pensions Commission described pensions, and the tax relief on pensions, as
“poorly understood, unevenly distributed, and the cost is significant.”
It was absolutely right. The cost to the Treasury is £34 billion a year, and it receives back some £13 billion in tax on pensions, so there is a huge cost involved. I am pretty sure that that is why the Treasury is rightly trying to shape a savings policy that is both good for individuals and not so expensive for taxpayers or for the Treasury as the intermediary. I would like to see a much more co-ordinated effort by the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions to look closely at the existing range of savings offerings, pensions included, to see how they can be rationalised in order to come up with a simpler, less expensive method of encouraging people to save.
It is interesting that the online information sheet on the lifetime ISA does not mention the fact that contributions come from someone’s salary after they have paid tax. It also strongly urges people to
“use it to save for retirement”.
That is exactly what we would expect people to do with a pensions product, so the concept that the lifetime ISA is not competitive with auto-enrolment and other pensions offerings is slightly disingenuous. Others have made the point that it is competitive with auto-enrolment and therefore offers significant potential for many of our constituents. Let me quote briefly from one or two of those who have highlighted this issue.
The Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, which used to be called the National Association of Pension Funds, illustrates my point that all pensions are now, rightly, considered to be savings products. It comments:
“We look forward to working with the Government to help make sure that the Lifetime ISA does help younger people build up their savings.”
It goes on to say that it is important to ensure that
“the regulation on charges and governance of the Lifetime ISA are comparable to those for pensions, which have been reviewed to make sure they offer savers good value”.
That refers to the cap on charges and the increased governance. The association is implicitly recognising that this product will be considered by consumers as an alternative to saving. Indeed, former pensions Minister Steve Webb says:
“There is a real danger that the new product will mean that many young people will not start saving for their retirement until their thirties”
because that option is available to them through the lifetime ISA.
It is also interesting that the Association of British Insurers, Zurich and Hargreaves Lansdown have all expressed concern. One of the points raised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies is exactly the same point that I made in an article earlier today in which I referred to the lack of clarity over the extent to which there will be new savings, as against the shifting of existing funds by people who have already saved in ISAs. We must recognise the fact that 21 million people have invested in ISAs. That is not a small body of people. It is not a narrow cohort consisting exclusively of the very rich, for example. If savings are recycled and 80% of the people who put money into a cash ISA in 2014-15 recycle their money into a lifetime ISA to get the 25% Government bonus, that would not necessarily demonstrate a success for the Government in terms of bringing in new savers and people who would not otherwise have the chance of getting on to the housing ladder. Rather, it would demonstrate that people who already have savings are being given an opportunity to increase the return on those savings, and that higher-rate earners will have an opportunity to provide lifetime ISAs for their children or grandchildren.
It would help if the Minister clarified what impact assessment the Treasury has carried out. How much money does it expect to come in from new savers? How much does it expect to be recycled from existing ISA-holders? Who will be the beneficiaries of the lifetime ISA? My concern is that the main beneficiaries of the vast weight of the £850 million that this will cost the Treasury and therefore the taxpayer will be people who already earn quite a lot, or their children, and that the benefits will not reach the many, even though that is the intention behind the Bill.
I have tried to address some of the issues and unintended consequences that could arise from the Bill. Hargreaves Lansdown has written a useful paper on simplifying ISAs and pensions, in which it proposes a number of changes to ISAs. It is worth flagging them up today. It proposes: consolidating six different types of ISA into one; limiting the cost to the Exchequer of the Government top-up to the lifetime ISA; simplifying ISA decision making for investors; reducing the administrative burden for the industry; retaining the help-to-buy element of the lifetime ISA in one simple ISA product; and eliminating the risk that the ISA will undermine pension saving. It goes on to make a similar number of recommendations on pensions as well. The last point about eliminating the risk that the LISA will undermine pension saving is the one to which I keep returning because it is possible to do these things in a different way.
The Pensions Policy Institute found that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, US and Singapore—all countries that broadly follow Anglo-Saxon approaches to finance and investment—allow early access from the same product used for pension saving. That is critical because it means that people do not have to choose between a LISA or auto-enrolment and that they can decide whether they want to save to get on to the housing ladder or to save for their retirement through the same product. It would be a major achievement of this Government and Treasury and DWP Ministers if they could work together to rationalise the structure of pensions and savings so that individual consumers can access the same product for different reasons without having to subscribe separately. That would eliminate the main concern of many about the unintended consequence of the LISA directly and negatively impacting auto-enrolment. That is why I will certainly not be voting against the Government but will abstain from voting on the Bill this evening.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). I am sure the Bill covers the self-employed, but that has not been brought up today. When I was self-employed 20 years ago, the then Government made a change to taxation which basically meant that a substantial amount of every pound that I put into my pension pot was taken out in cash, so I stopped paying into a private pension. The policy in front of us today proposes a break in that sort of behaviour, particularly for the self-employed. The self-employed have always been worried about the harmonisation of national insurance contributions. When I was the Prime Minister’s ambassador for the self-employed, I worked closely with my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) on trying to harmonise national insurance contributions so that self-employed people would eventually have the same state pension.
However, I want to talk about the lifetime ISA proposal, because it should not be confused with an extra pension top-up, about which every speaker in the debate before me has talked. It should instead be seen as a savings guarantee for the future. It was a tidy move by the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions in reaching the point of harmonising NICs. This proposal takes us a little further into the realms of the self-employed being able to look after themselves in future.
I do not want the LISA to be confused with a pension supplement. It is not that. It is something that helps to save for the future. To put it in perspective, we hear a lot of doom and gloom, but let us look where we were seven years ago. The then Prime Minister, the former Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, used to say quite often that he had put an end to boom and bust, but we then went bust in the biggest possible way. Near enough 10 years down the line from that, we have to address how we are going to save for our future. As someone who took the decision 15 or 20 years not to pay into a pension plan, I wholeheartedly welcome what the Government are doing.
I want to provide some perspective. Unemployment is dropping in my constituency—so much so that a Labour councillor was boasting about his business and saying that he cannot get enough employees to fill the positions. The workplace pension has its place, but the LISA has a separate place. I hope that it will carry on and enable people to save for their old age.
I do not want to start by correcting the hon. Gentleman, but I am pleased to have a savings account named after me, and the LISA is most definitely a “Lee-sa” and not a “Lye-sa”. Does he agree that financial education in schools is the crux of the matter? Children must learn how to budget in order to learn how to save and have a secure relationship with their finances.
That is part and parcel of the mix. However, this Bill is about where we are going in the future. I take on board what the hon. Lady says and I am sure that everyone else in the Chamber and in the country more widely will have done, too.
Thank you for allocating this time to me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wholeheartedly endorse what the Government are doing.
We have had a number of contributions. The hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) told us about his grandparents getting to Blackpool courtesy of a jam-jar savings policy, which I thought was novel. The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) summed up the Government’s proposals as a missed opportunity, as undermining pension savings and as not tackling the real issue. The hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who does not appear to be here, spoke of the diminution in the number of people with an asset base and said that, in his modest opinion, we should try to push on and get people to have a bigger asset base.
In an excellent contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) underlined the need for the Government to look afresh at the timescales in the Help to Save scheme and asked the Government to be more imaginative and reinforce the need to permit credit unions to participate in the scheme and the statutory right of payroll deductions of savings. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) gave us an enlightening exposition of his concerns that the proposal might be moving towards the death of the pension as we know it. I am not quite sure whether that was what he said, but that was the impression I got.
Just to clarify, I said that the proposal risks undermining saving through a pension scheme and we do not want to do that.
I understand that clarification and I will touch on that topic in my speech.
Finally, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), who supports the Government’s proposals, spoke about his experiences as a self-employed person and said that the proposal is not a supplementary pension but a means of saving.
Labour welcomes the sentiments expressed today on both sides of the House about the need to address savings overall. In general, anything that allows more people to save for the future is to be welcomed. Helping younger people and those on low incomes to save is a particularly legitimate and worthy objective, and the Government are right to consider policies to incentivise it. The majority of people on low incomes or in precarious work—categories sadly growing in Conservative Britain—are far from being in a position to save. Six years of Tory failures and austerity has led to many not knowing from where the next pound will come week in, week out. The Government’s clueless approach to exiting Europe simply compounds the problem on a macroeconomic level.
How is it possible for people to save when it is hardly possible for many to live properly on a weekly basis? How can a person save for the future when they can barely get through the day? The scandal of low retirement savings for the less well-off is an indictment on any notion of a cohesive society. One in seven pensioners lives in poverty and a further 1.2 million have incomes just above the poverty line. Distributional analysis by the Women’s Budget Group shows that single female pensioners will experience a whopping 20% drop in their living standards. It is unconscionable that people who have worked hard and contributed to society are forced to spend their final years in hardship and insecurity. We agree that there are problems that need to be solved urgently but the TUC states:
“Products such as… the forthcoming Lifetime ISA are disconnected from the world of work and prioritise goals other than retirement saving.”
As for the lifetime ISA, it is hard to see how its introduction even begins to tackle the problems to which I have just referred; not only does it represent a missed opportunity to build on the success of automatic enrolment, as those on the SNP Front Bench have said, but its introduction could serve as a distraction to tackling the real issues at hand. It misdirects valuable resources, as the money the Government are spending on this scheme is likely to benefit mostly those on higher incomes, as has been mentioned on a number of occasions. It also needlessly complicates the pensions and savings landscape—an arena already fraught with complexity. Perhaps most dangerously, it has the potential to undermine the emerging consensus that a pension ISA approach would be detrimental in the round. Indeed, it has the potential to introduce just such an approach through the back door. That is a concern and we are seeking assurances from the Government that it is not doing that.
In the months leading up to the Budget, the concept of replacing the existing systems of pensions tax relief with an ISA-style approach was widely debated and almost universally rejected as damaging to people’s retirement prospects. I wonder, as do many others, whether, after enduring an embarrassing rebuff, the Tories are back again with the same intent under the guise of this Bill. Many in the pensions industry have described the LISA as a “stealth” move towards pension ISAs. The Work and Pensions Committee has said that the Government are marketing the LISA as a pension product and there is a high risk that people will opt out of their workplace pension as a result. Let me be perfectly clear: people will not be better off saving into an ISA as opposed to a workplace pension. The Committee found that
“For most employees the decision to save in a LISA instead of through a workplace pension would be detrimental to their retirement savings.”
Can the hon. Gentleman shed some light on why he thinks the Government would introduce a Bill that would make people worse off as a result of investing in an ISA than they would be if they invested in a pension? Does he not think that that is an abdication of responsibility by the Government?
The answer to the first question is that I do not know and the answer to the second is yes.
I have to give credit where credit is due, because the Conservative party has a particular talent for conjuring up political smokescreens and opportunistic gimmicks: it has given us a national living wage, which, by any stretch of the imagination, is not a living wage; we were promised a “big society”, yet the Government set about systematically undermining the notion of a cohesive society; and we were cynically assured by the late, unlamented Chancellor that we were “all in it together”. One thing I do acknowledge is that post-Brexit, given the poor performance of the Ministers responsible for negotiating it, we will all be in it together—and it won’t smell very nice. In the meantime, the Government continue unfairly and unjustly to condemn working people and vulnerable groups to pay for the Government’s failed austerity obsession—and now it is time for the Government to mess up pensions. Do they never learn from their mistakes? Are they so ideologically driven that they simply cannot admit that they get things wrong? These are mistakes, I might add, that others pay for. Have the Government not done enough damage to the prospects of hundreds of thousands of WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—pensions without thinking that through? Yet again, they have not thought about the potential for millions more to be affected.
When former Conservative pensions Ministers are referring to the LISA as a “Trojan horse” and warning that such “superficial attractions” will “destroy pensions”, alarm bells begin to ring on the Opposition Benches, if not on the other side of the House. Given this scenario, common sense demands ask that we ask this: are we now being presented with a savings Bill that will fundamentally undermine proper planning for pensions for the future? As many others have pointed out, the LISA is a sort of pension and not a sort of pension—it is both and not at the same time—and neither will it necessarily last for a lifetime. This seemingly opportunistically designed product risks even more pensioner poverty, which people can ill afford at any time, let alone in their later years. Moreover, the Tories’ approach of transferring responsibility and risk from the collective to individuals will not work, especially as the incomes of the poorest, the majority of whom are women, are being squeezed by public sector cuts and the roll-out of universal credit.
The Labour party is motivated and inspired by the real principle and value that we are all in it together—this is not a slogan and a soundbite, but a truism. We know that the majority of people are significantly disadvantaged by an individualised, dog-eat-dog approach, as opposed to a collective system that has fairness at its core. Today, people struggle with wages that are still lower than they were before the global financial crisis in 2008. There are now 800,000 people on zero-hours contracts and half a million people in bogus self-employment, and nearly 4 million of our children are living in poverty. Labour’s economic strategy is committed to tackling wage stagnation, particularly among those at the lower end, so that they are able and have the capacity to save for their future as well as living life now.
As the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said:
“The pensions system that I want to see ensures dignity in retirement, and a proper reflection of the contribution that older people have made, and continue to make, to our society.”
Labour Members would like the Government categorically, unequivocally and clearly to assure the public that this Bill is not a veiled attack on pensions as we know them.
First, let me thank everyone here today for contributing to this interesting debate. As my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary said in her opening remarks, the measures contained in this Bill are really important priorities for this Government, and both Help to Save and the LISA offer people in this country a new and effective option for how they save their money. Help to Save focuses on giving more support to those on low incomes. It will give a 50% boost to those who can get into the saving habit of putting aside a small, regular amount into their account each month. The LISA focuses on younger people. It is an account that will offer genuine choice and flexibility, not to mention—
I will give way, but I had hoped to address the hon. Gentleman’s many comments later on.
I am grateful to the Minister, but this is an important point. Will he explain to the House why he thinks it is right to encourage people to invest in the lifetime ISA rather than in a pension, given that a pension will give a better return, as has been demonstrated in the figures, such as the one I cited of a 32% difference over a 40-year period? Why are the Government being misguided and prioritising ISAs over pensions?
I thank the hon. Gentleman so much for that intervention, but the Government are not doing what he suggests. We are offering people a choice, and these two schemes are complementary and serve very different purposes. The genuine choice and flexibility to which I alluded are at the core of this Bill, but now let me deal with the specific points raised today.
The hon. Members for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) mentioned credit unions. The Government recognise that many credit unions were interested in offering accounts, but it was not clear that a multiple provider model would guarantee national coverage for the scheme. We will continue to explore further options for credit unions to support delivery of the scheme, and I am sure that we will have that conversation in more detail as the Bill progresses.
The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles talked of this scheme being a substitute for benefits, but it is about increasing the financial resilience of low-income families so that if they are hit with an unexpected bill or if someone loses their job, they will have money for a rainy day. If something unexpected happens to their income, they will have savings to bridge the gap. She also asked why two years was chosen. This is the period of time needed to encourage account holders to develop a regular savings habit—a habit all too lacking in many people, especially younger people. I reiterate that the amount is up to £50 a month. People may not be able to afford that amount, but any regular saving is something that all of us should encourage.
I wish to clarify one point. The hon. Lady mentioned that there would be an additional penalty if people took money out of a lifetime ISA. An additional charge will be applied to reflect the long-term nature of the account, and that will act as a disincentive to people removing money unless it is essential or if there is a very important change in circumstances to be taken into account.
I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) for his contribution. Our constituents are looking forward to the introduction of these products, and I agree with him that they contain significant incentives. He also mentioned the abolition of savings tax. It is worth putting it on the record that 95% of people have no savings tax to pay thanks to the new personal savings allowance.
The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) mentioned a smorgasbord of issues, a few of which I shall pick up on. He said that women were disadvantaged by automatic enrolment. Before it began, 65% of women employed full time in the private sector did not have a workplace pension; as of 2015, that had fallen to 35%. He said that a lifetime ISA was just for the rich, but it is for anyone between the ages of 18 and 40. They can open it and save into it until they are 50. The maximum annual contribution that an individual can make is £4,000. People can pay less than that and still enjoy the Government bonus. We expect that a large majority of those who use the lifetime ISA will be basic rate taxpayers.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned StepChange. Well, this is what StepChange has said:
“We welcome Government recognition of the need for a savings scheme aimed at those on low incomes. Our research shows that if every household in the UK had £1,000 in rainy day savings, 500,000 would be protected from falling into problem debt.”
He also mentioned the Association of British Insurers, which said in August:
“The industry supports the Lifetime ISA as a vehicle to help people save, in addition to a workplace pension.”
I hope that is fairly clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) asked very sensible questions and made some thoughtful points. In particular, he asked about the limit of £50 a month. Individuals saving £50 a month for four years will earn a generous bonus of £1,200. It is probably an appropriate limit for people on low incomes, at whom the scheme is targeted. There has to be a ceiling.
The hon. Member for Harrow West asked about payroll deduction. I have to thank him for a very sensible and measured contribution. There is no reason why payroll deduction cannot take place. I cannot make a commitment to him today, but I can confirm that I am happy to see whether there is more that we can do in that area.
I am grateful to the Minister for his considered response to my request for payroll deduction. Would he be willing to meet me and the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd to discuss this issue further?
Yes, I would be very happy to do that.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for his thoughtful contribution. Clearly, he feels very strongly about a vast number of issues. I respectfully disagree with some of his opinions, but I hope that he continues to contribute to this important debate, as it is important that we get it right. At the end of the day, this is about helping younger people and poorer people get into the habit of saving.
Given that the crux of the matter is to help younger people to save, will the Minister have a dialogue with colleagues about financial education at school, and why it is really important that children and young people have a stable and secure relationship with money and that they understand that at an early age?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. Making sensible, correct and proper financial decisions is important for all of us throughout our lives. She has got her point in Hansard. I will also take it away with me.
Let me come back to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester. There was some confusion about the factsheet of Her Majesty’s Treasury. May I make it clear that the lifetime ISA is for long-term saving, and is designed to complement pensions? Contributions to an ISA are made from post-tax income.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) mentioned self-employed people. We should never forget that many people do not have this quandary about whether they should auto-enrol or go for a lifetime ISA. There are sensible self-employed people who either want to save for later life or purchase their first home. I know that the lifetime ISA scheme will be very well received by them.
Finally, I thank the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) for his contribution. I disagreed with almost everything he said, but I genuinely look forward to his continued involvement in this important area. Let us not forget that we have a responsibility to the millions of people out there—young people and poorer people—who should be saving and getting the very best assistance they can from the Government.
In conclusion, when it comes down to it, this Bill is about supporting people who are trying to save. It does not matter whether they are a young person looking for a flexible way to save for the future or if they are someone who is on a low income and are making a big effort to save up some money each month, they deserve a savings account that will support them and give them a boost on what they manage to put aside. Although these two savings vehicles are new, they are intended to do exactly that. I am pleased to commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Savings (Government Contributions) Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 1 November 2016.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Andrew Griffiths.)
Question agreed to.
Savings (Government Contributions) Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:
(1) any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown or a government department under or by virtue of the Act; and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Andrew Griffiths.)
Question agreed to.
Savings (Government Contributions) Bill (Ways and Means)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill, it is expedient to authorise—
(1) charges on certain withdrawals from Lifetime ISAs; and
(2) the recovery (with or without interest) of sums paid by way of government bonuses under the Act.—(Andrew Griffiths.)
Question agreed to.