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

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.