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Financial Inclusion in England

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase financial inclusion in England.

The Government want to ensure that people, regardless of their background or income, have access to useful and affordable financial products and services. To increase financial inclusion, the Government work closely with regulators, industry and consumer groups. Since 2019, we have allocated £100 million of funding from dormant assets towards this. The Government are also promoting financial inclusion through the Financial Services and Markets Bill, for example by introducing legislation to protect access to cash.

My Lords, when it comes to financial inclusion, cash still matters materially to millions. Would my noble friend agree that it is not just about access to cash? Acceptance of cash is equally important. Further, as we move increasingly towards digital, would she agree that it is time for the Government to undertake an access to digital payments review to ensure financial inclusion for all?

My Lords, our approach is that accepting cash is a decision for the firms involved. We have taken action to ensure that people can access cash through ATMs and elsewhere. My noble friend also makes an important point about digital inclusion and digital payments. We are looking at how we can promote that alongside financial inclusion in our work through the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum and other avenues.

Will the Minister say which Minister has formal lead responsibility for financial inclusion now? Under the previous arrangements, it was not one but two Ministers: one in Treasury and one in DWP. It is not clear to me who is currently leading. The Minister just referred to the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum. What is going to happen moving forward and how frequently will it meet?

The noble Baroness asks a very good question, and I am afraid I will have to double-check and get back to her. The reason that it has traditionally been a DWP and a Treasury Minister is their joint role on that policy forum. It is not me in the Treasury, but I will find out who it is. The Government and others have found it a useful forum to drive forward action in this area and I am sure they will want it to continue with its good work.

My Lords, will the Minister say what the Government are doing to tackle poverty premium issues in financial services? We know that people on the lowest incomes pay more for credit and insurance, for instance, but issues such as this seem to be kicked between the Treasury, which says it needs more data in order to take action, and the regulator, which says that it is not within its remit to collect that data. How does the Minister expect that the new FCA consumer duty and consumer vulnerability guidance will help tackle the poverty premium, given that they deal primarily with existing customers and do not address the needs of those consumers whom the market finds more expensive and therefore less profitable to serve?

The Government are conscious of the poverty premium. We have used the Financial Inclusion Policy Forum as somewhere that we can bring together different actors on this. I will give some examples of action that we have taken in this area. The FCA, the regulator, has taken action on motor and home insurance to stop customers who are renewing being charged more than new customers. We have also seen the age agreement put in place for older customers to be able to access travel and motor insurance, and some work has been done with the Association of British Insurers looking at the poverty premium, specifically in the rented sector, and it has provided some recommendations to the Government that we are considering how best to take forward.

My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lord Holmes’s campaign to ensure that physical currency is available and valid, but what are the Government doing to ensure that the currency is fit for purpose? Many noble Lords may recall the farthing. The farthing was withdrawn in 1960 because it was redundant. The 1960 farthing is worth 2.8p today, but the halfpenny was withdrawn in 1984 for the same reason. So what is the life expectancy for the 1p coin languishing in saucers up and down the country?

I am afraid to say to my noble friend that I do not recall the farthing myself. The Government had a consultation on cash and digital payments in 2018 and the responses strongly supported not changing the denominational mix of coinage at that time. However, as with all areas of policy, we keep this under review.

My Lords, I have met many people who are visiting pawnbrokers, putting down their everyday things just to get a few pounds to enable them to survive. They are paying interest rates of 160% upwards. Does the Minister consider that to be affordable? If not, what is she proposing in order to help these people?

I do not consider that to be affordable at all. We are taking a number of actions in this area. We work closely with Fair4All Finance, the organisation set up to distribute funding from dormant assets. One of its projects is working on the no-interest loans pilot scheme to try to provide a different route and access to credit for those who need it. At the Autumn Statement, we heard from my right honourable friend the Chancellor the action we are taking to direct our support this winter and next year to the most vulnerable households.

My Lords, the Money and Pensions Service has highlighted that children’s attitudes to money are well developed by the age of seven. According to the CBI, prioritising financial education could add nearly £7 billion to the UK economy each year. Does the Minister agree that the Government should consider making financial education a statutory part of the primary school curriculum?

My Lords, financial education in England is covered within both the citizenship and mathematics curricula. The Money and Pensions Service has also published financial education guidance for both primary and secondary schools in England to support school leaders and education decision-makers to enhance the financial education currently delivered in their schools. More broadly, after Covid and other disruptions there has been a commitment by this Government not to make any changes to the national curriculum for the remainder of the Parliament.

My Lords, access to bank accounts and other financial services is vital, but so is better protecting people from financial scams and fraud. The Government currently have the economic crime Bill, the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Online Safety Bill before Parliament; we will shortly see a data Bill too. Can the Minister assure us, perhaps in writing, that the final versions of these Bills will include clear and consistent measures to tackle the scams and other forms of fraud that blight so many people’s lives?

The noble Lord is right to point to the range of Bills before Parliament that will address this issue. We will not be able to address fraud and scams through financial services regulation alone. For example, many fraudsters access people through online platforms, so we need to look at that approach too. Those Bills will contain measures to tackle this, and the Government are also committed to bringing forward a fraud strategy that will bring together work from regulators, government and law enforcement to get a grip on this issue.

My Lords, financial involvement is important because it represents people being willing to invest in British businesses and help them to grow. Unfortunately, the volume of direct citizen investment has fallen rather than increased in recent years. I am afraid that the increase in dividend tax and other investment expenses will also discourage this. Can the Government think about methods of encouraging people to invest in this country?

We absolutely want citizens to invest more and we have products, for example to help those on lower incomes form saving habits. We also want institutional investors to invest more in this country, which is why we are taking action on things such as Solvency II.

My Lords, the primary cause of financial exclusion is poverty. What exactly is the Government’s anti-poverty strategy?

My Lords, as I said earlier, in the Autumn Statement we set out the significant support that this Government are providing to the most vulnerable households. In fact, in the analysis of that Autumn Statement, it was those in the lowest income deciles who stood to gain the most from the policies we announced.