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Business Comment

Anthony Hilton: We can save if we think we are getting value

The pensions industry is adept at painting the Brits as feckless spendthrifts

Nest, the Government-backed new second pension, was launched this week, amid much fanfare about how it would encourage the nation to start saving for its old age. And perhaps it will when the roll-out is completed in about five years' time and the millions working in small companies where pension provision currently is limited are brought into the net.

I am not convinced, however. I have always thought the reason poor people did not save was that they did not have any money, and that will continue to be the case, whether or not they are enrolled automatically into a pension scheme. I have doubts too in the majority of cases whether the amount which can be saved will make a material difference when it comes to retirement. The way the scheme is unfolding with thousands of small pension plans means vast amounts will instead be eaten up in costs and charges.

The more general point, though, is that the pensions industry has become adept at painting the Brits as a feckless bunch of spendthrifts – largely to further its own commercial ends – but the facts don't bear it out. Indeed in the last few years the country has been putting cash aside at an astonishing rate.

If the period before the financial crash was a time when people exploited the value of their houses to spend more than they earned, the period since has been the opposite. Figures published by the Bank of England on Wednesday showed there was a net injection into housing equity of £9.8bn in the second quarter of this year. That is the opposite of equity withdrawal, and it is a measure of how much people are paying off or reducing their mortgages – and thereby increasing their stock of assets.

There have now been 17 such increases in a row, and it means the cumulative net injection of equity – or debt reduction – since 2008 when the troubles began is now £133.2bn.

That suggest to me the Brits have no trouble putting money aside if they know what it is being invested in. They just don't like sticking it into pension plans which they think offer poor value.