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Consumers go it alone as storm clouds gather


storms21.jpgThe dust has settled on Alistair Darling’s first Budget and consumers have been given little reason for celebration. The Chancellor, though announcing various measures designed to increase housing affordability, has done nothing to help the masses.

There were no moves to give a helping hand to hard-pressed householders, already struggling amid rocketing mortgage, food, fuel and tax costs, to ride out an impending recession. Darling did pledge to introduce a savings scheme targeted at low and moderate earners, often least able to save: the “saving gateway” will attract government matching for savings over the duration of people’s participation in the scheme. This has the potential to introduce up to eight million people into mainstream savings in the UK who otherwise might not make thrift a priority.

But the level of take-up of such a scheme, amid record personal debt levels and huge pressure on people’s purse-strings, is debatable. Other such government schemes to encourage the nation to save have hardly been a runaway success: think stakeholder pensions and child-trust funds (CTF). One fifth of parents currently let their CTF expire — the government can’t even give money away.

Individual savings accounts (ISAs), on the other hand, have flourished. They are one of the government’s true success stories. More than one in three adults hold an ISA and almost 215 billion pounds has been invested — making them far more popular than other savings initiatives.