Five questions answered on a new survey about the UK’s finances

The Money Advice Service has released the results of its latest survey into people’s finances. We answer five questions on the survey’s results.

So, what’s the overall picture of people’s finances in the UK? 

Not so great. According to the survey 52 per cent of UK adults said they are struggling to keep up with bills and debt repayments. Unsurprisingly, this is up compared to 35 per cent in a similar study in 2006. 

In Northern Ireland people are struggling even more, some 66 per cent saying they were struggling.

How many people did the survey involve?

The Money Advice Service, which is a government backed website, surveyed 5000 people and followed 72 families over the course of a year to see how they managed their money. 

They intend to repeat the survey quarterly, surveying a total of 10,000 people, to get a better picture of the nation’s finances. 

What else did the survey reveal? 

Those finding it hardest were in the North West area of the country, with 60 per cent of people saying they find it tough to make their money last to the next pay day. 

 Twenty-one per cent of people said they had experienced a large drop in income, while 42 per cent said they would have to have a think about how to pay for an unexpected bill of £300.

It also revealed that although most people are keeping a tight track on their finances, some have no idea how much money is in their bank account. Of those asked, 84 per cent they kept a track on their money, while 16 per cent were unable to identify the balance on a bank statement.

What have the Money Advice Service said about the results of the survey? 

“In theory, money management is easy - spend less than you earn and consider your future. But the difficulty comes when applying this in the real world," said Caroline Rookes, chief executive of the Money Advice Service.

"This report reveals just how difficult it is at the moment for so many of us, but also highlights ways we are adapting to manage financially."

What has the treasury said about the survey’s findings? 

A spokesman for the UK Treasury, speaking to the BBC, said: "We recognise that times are still tough for families, but Britain is holding its nerve, we are sticking to our plan and the British economy is on the mend.

"This report shows that, despite these tough times, managing your everyday finances effectively can really help to make things a little easier, which is why the government continues to support efforts to boost people's financial skills."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.