UK households' saving power falls to record low

Britons less able to put money away now than at any time in the last four-and-a-half decades


A pinch on real incomes means that at the end of last year, Britons were able to save less than at any time in the last four-and-a-half decades, official figures reveal.

Economists warn the problem will likely get worse, too, as inflation is rapidly picking up pace in response to the pound's fall following last year's Brexit vote.

All in all it is bad news for the economy, which relies heavily on consumer spending that could be set to fall markedly. Around 80 per cent of GDP is made up of activities related to the services sector.

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Today's release from the Office for National Statistics was at first glance positive, says the BBC.

Economic expansion was 1.8 per cent in 2016, in line with earlier estimates, while growth came in at a healthy 0.7 per cent for the fourth quarter.

"Beneath the surface, though, some more worrying signs are evident," said John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC.

The savings ratio - described by The Guardian as "the amount of money households have available to save as a percentage of their total disposable income" - fell from 5.3 per cent in the third quarter to 3.3 per cent in the fourth. That is the lowest figure recorded since the ONS began compiling records in 1963.

In addition, real incomes - earnings growth once the devaluing effect of inflation is taken into account - fell by 0.3 per cent and household debt jumped to its highest in nearly 30 years at £11bn.

In short, the figures paint a picture of households seeing the value of earnings dip and having to raid savings or borrow more on credit cards and overdrafts to maintain their lifestyle.

It could be a cause for concern if household debt, which is currently the subject of a Bank of England review, keeps spiralling higher. But equally, the wider economy would suffer if consumers reined in their spending habits.

That is precisely what analysts are suggesting could happen. These figures relate, after all, to a period when inflation was less than one per cent; it hit 2.3 per cent in February and is expected to reach three per cent this year.Martin Beck, senior economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said: "2017 is likely to be a very tough year for the consumer, with little or no scope to offset the headwinds from higher inflation by borrowing more."

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