I hope that George Osborne will finally introduce some policies to help savers

Autumn Statement wishlist.

I hope that George Osborne will finally introduce some policies to help savers.  It is vital that the Government stops punishing those who want to take responsibility for themselves and their future, rather than spending everything immediately and then falling back on benefits.  Savers have had such a rough deal in recent years.  It is understandable that some emergency economic help had to be introduced, but enough's enough.  Savers need some help now, in order to ensure that future generations are not put off taking responsibility for their own financial future.

Whether it's young people saving for a house deposit, or older generations trying to prepare for retirement, savings have been damaged by recent policies.  Ultra low interest rates have decimated savings income, high inflation has reduced savers' capital spending power and the policy of Quantitative Easing which has bought huge swathes of the government bond market, has resulted in much lower pensions all round.

There are some major policies that I would love to see in this Autumn Statement.

1.  Help all savers by relaxing the restrictions on ISAs (tax free Individual Savings Accounts) so the savers can choose to use their full annual limit either to save in cash or in stocks and shares.  Currently, only half the annual allowance can be saved in cash.  But young people saving for a house deposit or retirees living on their savings cannot afford to gamble on the stock market.  They should be allowed to shelter the full annual allowance from tax.  This would have the same effect for them as a rise in interest rates, as they would get more savings income.

2.  Pensioners who do not want to buy annuities with their pension fund have had their incomes cut by Government policy when they are in an Income Drawdown pension.  I am calling on the Chancellor to allow people to take more money out of their own pension savings, rather than cutting their pensions in line with the plunge in market annuity rates.  The changes the Chancellor made last year have caused serious hardship for many pensioners, and reversing them would allow people to maintain their pension income, they would have more money to spend and pay more tax, so actually it would benefit the Exchequer.  If they have been responsible enough to save large sums for their retirement, they should be trusted more to spend it appropriately.

3.  I would like to see the Chancellor introduce policies to encourage people to save for later life care needs - at the moment, savings policy is focussing far too much on just pensions, without addressing the looming crisis in social care funding that is coming down the track.  A separate ISA allowance for care savings, which would only be tax-free if the money is used for care - either for oneself or a member of ones family - would start to signal to people that later life saving is about more than just pensions.

4.  I would like to see a more creative approach to encouraging pension funds to invest in local construction or infrastructure projects, or even lending to local businesses.  Perhaps issuing some local bonds specifically for pension funds, with a minimum return underpin that would allow local authority pension schemes to help boost their local economies, or to invest more broadly to benefit the UK economy. 

5.  I would like to see some temporary tax breaks for capital spending projects, perhaps a 12 or 24 month special incentive that would encourage firms to undertake expansion investments quickly.  Large firms have plenty of cash, but currently they are not feeling confident enough to use it. Giving them an incentive to do so, when we know they do have the money, could help kick-start growth and would pay for itself in reduced benefit spending.  Pension funds also have billions of pounds of investments, but they are currently using their money to buy gilts to try to reduce their risks.  This is a counterproductive strategy and the economy would benefit much more if they invested in projects that would provide a benefit to growth directly.

Ros Altmann is a UK pensions expert and campaigner

Savers have had a rough deal. Photograph: Getty Images

Ros Altmann is director general of Saga Group

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.