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Inequality worsens as savings gap grows 25%

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

Inequality is on the rise, with the difference in financial fortunes between low and high income families becoming starker over the past year, according to a study.

Families are also facing increased financial pressure from stalling incomes and savings, combined with rising debt and inflation fears.

The savings gap between low and high income families has grown 25% year-on-year, from £50,072 in winter 2015/16 to £62,790 in winter 2016/17, Aviva’s latest Family Finances Report revealed.

Low income families earning £1,500 or less a month now typically have just £95 in savings and investments excluding pensions, compared to £136 a year ago.

High income families earning £5,001 a month or more have increased typical savings to £62,885. The data suggests one in four (25%) UK families are classed as low income, while less than one in ten (8%) fall under the high income classification.

The typical amount held in savings and investments across all UK families has fallen from its highest level of £4,426 last summer to £3,134, the lowest level since summer 2015 of £3,116.

This is likely to have been influenced by the fact typical monthly family incomes have fallen to a two-year low of £2,006, according to the research.

Homeownership falls to lowest point in four years

The study shows the proportion of UK families who own their own home– either outright or with a mortgage – is now 64%, its lowest level in four years. This compares to 67% a year ago and 70% in winter 2014/15.

The fall in homeownership has been driven by an annual decline in mortgaged homeownership, from 49% of all families to 46%.

This could be a sign of difficulties getting a mortgage for first-time buyers or families not considered ‘prime’ borrowers. With typical incomes falling, others may be falling foul of affordability rules or struggling to raise a deposit.

Paul Brencher, managing director, individual protection at Aviva UK, said:While homeownership has increased among high income families, fewer low income families are now on the property ladder. Although mortgage rates are at record lows, qualifying for these deals and getting a deposit can be difficult for those with limited household income or unusual circumstances. Britain’s broken housing market means becoming a homeowner is a distant dream for many families and government plans must swiftly be turned into action to stem the tide of inequality.”

Rising prices among families’ greatest fears for financial future

More than two in five (43%) families now say significant increases in the price of basic necessities is one of the biggest threats to their standard of living in the next three months, up from 36% last summer.

This fear looks justified given that consumer price inflation (CPI) rose to a high of 1.8% in January – a level not seen since June 2014.

Having dipped in 2014, household debt – excluding mortgages and student debt – has steadily been growing as low interest rates give families greater access to low-cost credit.

Average debt, tracked by Aviva since 2011, has now surpassed its previous record of £14,950 (summer 2013) to reach £17,630 in winter 2016/17: an increase of 18%.

Personal loans are the single biggest contributor to household debt, with families owing an average of £2,770: an increase of 33% since last winter (£2,080).

This borrowing has overtaken credit card debt, which remains the second biggest contributor to family debt.

Families owe the largest average amount on credit cards (£2,680, up from £2,370 a year ago) since Aviva began tracking this data.

 “With inflation climbing fast, families are understandably concerned about the impact of rising prices on the household purse. Poor returns on savings and rising inflation means families could well see their safety net eroded if they don’t keep up regular contributions and try to boost savings pots whenever possible,” said Brencher.