Wednesday 5 March 2014 8:57 pm

People too scared to save because they don’t trust politicians

BRITAIN remains in a savings crisis. A shocking 19 per cent of the public have no savings at all, up from 17 per cent last year, and the average stash put away for a rainy day is a miserable £10,208. The total number of people who felt able to add to their savings actually dropped last year to 14.4m (just 30 per cent of the adult population) from 14.8m the previous year, and 54 per cent of people surveyed by Scottish Widows said they were saving less than they did two years ago. Just 12 per cent of people have more than £50,000 in savings.

It is clear that individuals, when at all possible, need to accumulate more financial assets. As incomes start to grow again, as much of the increase as possible ought to be put aside, rather than be spent on consumer goods; this process would depress domestic demand for years to come but is the only way the economy will ever be rebalanced. Tragically, it won’t happen.

A lack of trust in the system is one important explanation. People simply don’t believe the government – and politicians of all parties – when it comes to long-terms savings and pensions. They worry, with good reason, that the rules will keep changing; they are afraid that savers are an easy target and that they will eventually be hit by a wealth tax if the national debt continues to grow; and many therefore say that they prefer to invest in property instead. Many also distrust the financial services industry.

Tackling this will take years and will require a new pro-savings cross-party political consensus in the UK and the adoption of a new, mass market savings and retirement system. Yet the coalition constantly fiddles with the rules, and Labour seems intent on inflicting even greater damage on savers. The politicians need to get their act together: their short-termism is impoverishing the great British public in a catastrophic manner.

IT’s time for the food extremists to back off. Sugar is not cyanide. Neither is meat, nor salt, nor carbs, nor protein nor any of the other pleasurable things we are told we should not eat by an increasingly angry, hysterical brigade of busy-bodies. Amusingly, fat, which was held up as being the primary health risk during the 1980s, is rarely mentioned these days.

Lots of nice things can be and often actually are bad for people’s health, and too much sugar (for example) or red meat has negative consequences (though different people can cope with different amounts). But comparing these with tobacco, which is unambiguously terrible for people’s health, is a sensationalist exaggeration.

Sensible, scientific attempts at trying to understand what is healthy and what isn’t – and the latest findings on sugar are fascinating – have been hijacked by political activists who want to tax and regulate and control everything that moves. Food companies and supermarkets will be next in politicians’ sights – after banks, energy companies and property companies – but also restaurants, an important area of entrepreneurial activity that has yet to be demonised.

People should have the right to choose what they eat, and to be unhealthy and indulge if that makes them happy. Freedom is a good thing; treating adults like children will merely infantilise our society. It may well be that sugar can potentially be addictive – many things, sadly, probably are. But that doesn’t mean that it should be taxed, or that the public cannot be trusted to make choices.

It is right for doctors, medical professionals and scientists to warn the public of risks to their health, and we need better schooling in general to ensure that more people can take rational, informed and statistically correct decisions when living their lives. Some vulnerable people will need help. But we don’t need any more regulations, and we have way too many taxes already.
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