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A saving strategy

Running alongside the continuing debate on depolarisation and how to make specific advice more accessible is a wider and potentially more significant concern about raising general awareness of personal finance issues. It is in this domain, in particular, that renewed interest has arisen both in the workplace and in school.

The workplace has traditionally been a focus for financial welfare and planning for employees.

Occupational pensions make this direct link and, as the recent consultation on reform of annuities points out, “there is a natural link between employment and a fuller understanding of pension rights and entitlements”.

The introduction of stakeholder pensions, with the requirement that employers offer access to stakeholders, has also refocused attention on the role of employers and the workplace.

Interest has been sparked both in the delivery of specific advice in the workplace and also in how employers could act as intermediaries in raising awareness and offering information on financial issues. This could be as simple as distributing FSA material or might involve holding awareness-raising sessions or workshops for employees.

This is not as straightforward as it sounds, not least because many employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, will str-uggle with additional responsibilities.

Many are already feeling the weight of many recent public policy reforms, such as employers&#39 role in the operation of the new range of Government tax credits and the implementation of the working time directive.

However, the workplace is an excellent access route to get to people who are disengaged from thinking about their financial future and who will lose out as a consequence.

These obstacles can be overcome. The ABI believes the workplace should be used to promote stakeholder pensions more and its recent survey showed that 70 per cent of employees would be happy to be advised at work.

Further thought needs to be given to how to maximise the potential of the workplace in a way appropriate for employers and employees.

The FSA is also aware of this potential. Its new responsibility to promote public understanding of the financial system is a role unique among the world&#39s financial services regulators.

It is an enlightened step for which the Government should be applauded.

The FSA is already putting in place an extensive range of tools for raising awareness and promoting understanding through use of new media as well as conventional methods such as leaflets. The FSA has also been at the forefront of thinking on how to engage schools, as well as employers, in this endeavour.

In England, the national curriculum currently makes specific reference to the promotion of financial capability and the personal, social and health education framework outlines various personal education topics. This is not, however, part of statutory curriculum, so personal finance education is competing with other subjects to get teaching time.

The delivery of the child trust fund has focused minds in this regard. The universal trust fund provides a tangible financial tool which all children will be able to reference to, making the learning experience more real.

It is also clear that the child trust fund will not fully succeed unless children and young adults have basic financial skills. As well as promoting education on personal finance in schools, there might also be scope to raise awareness more broadly of the financial services arena and this might involve new and innovative collaborations between schools and financial services companies.

The Government itself has been making efforts to raise awareness, particularly in relation to pensions.

Several million pounds have been spent on advertising to promote pensions and the campaign is set to continue. The Government seems committed to developing a savings culture.

If this is going to be achieved then, in addition to national advertising, a more comprehensive strategy is needed. If we are serious about making a cultural shift, then realising the potential of both the workplace and school is essential.

Sue Regan is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research

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