Why the Bank of England is raising interest rates – and the risks involved

From The Conversation.

The Bank of England is poised to raise interest rates for the first time since July 2007. Its monetary policy committee (MPC) will meet to decide on November 2. The MPC’s last vote on the issue was a 7-2 majority for maintaining current rates, but it’s only a matter of time before rates rise.

Initially, the rise will likely be from 0.25% to 0.5%. This may not sound like much, but it could have significant implications for the UK economy. Mark Carney, the bank’s governor, is facing an uncomfortable trade-off, mulling priorities of curbing inflation versus financial stability.

The reason for the rate rise is inflation, which has risen to its highest level since April 2012 (3%) – beyond the government’s target figure of 2%. This is a result of the Brexit vote in June 2016, which saw a precipitous drop in the pound, making imports more expensive and pushing up prices of everyday items.

A rise in interest rates should help stem this by boosting the value of the pound. For example, expectations of a rate increase last month prompted a temporary jump in the value of the pound of 1.5%. Plus, the central bank will be hoping that higher interest rates will encourage people to save – another method of curbing inflation – although any increases on savers’ rates will be negligible.

But, despite hints of a rise from Carney, the situation is not that simple. The long period of low interest rates has been accompanied by a worrying surge in consumer borrowing. Household debt exceeds 100% of household income and house prices are on an upward trajectory, climbing back to 2007 crisis levels.

Clearly, an interest rate increase would harm borrowers and may even harm financial stability if monthly repayments are no longer manageable and defaults rife.

UK household debt to income ratio. ONS and Bank of England calculations

With the average outstanding balance on a mortgage in the UK estimated to be close to £120,000 and, assuming repayment will take 15 years, the next graph shows estimated annual repayments for a variety of possible interest rate hikes.

What is worrying is that the Taylor rule (a popular interest rate forecasting tool) suggests that interest rates should be approximately 2% higher than they currently are. This would further squeeze household budgets and push the average repayments above £11,000 per year.

Stopping a car crash

Another area the Bank of England is keeping a close eye on is the way cars are financed. Many new cars are purchased on personal contract plans (PCPs) whereby they are paid for via monthly repayments – usually with zero or low upfront payments. A rise in interest rates could result in an awkward situation for car financiers if owners are unable to keep up with payments and decide to return their keys early.

With a glut of cars returning to the forecourt, as people reallocate resources to increasing mortgage and debt payments, the estimated residual values of the cars may prove inaccurate, leaving financiers (banks and car firms) with heavy losses. And it doesn’t stop there. The loans have been syndicated so there could be ripple effects through the financial system.

Headed for a crash? John Stillwell/PA Archive/PA Images

All in all, this sounds rather reminiscent of 2007, with the difference being that the asset here is a car that is depreciating in value as opposed to a house. Not surprisingly, the Bank of England is trying to reign in car financing to engineer a soft landing.

Slow and steady

On top of all this, there is the notably gloomy outlook for the UK economy to contend with. To keep growth on an upward trajectory, keeping interest rates low is still seen by some as a necessity, and some economists (notably Danny Blanchflower, a former MPC member) still advocate for this.

Unemployment is now at low levels not seen since the mid-1970s, which is music to the ears of cautious central bankers. Yet wage growth – a measure of longer term inflation – remains subdued, and “underemployment” (such as the part-time worker who really wants to work full time) still has some way to fall to get back to pre-crisis levels not withstanding recent drops.

This will ensure that any hikes in interest rates will be a drawn out process – to avoid frightening financial markets, which have grown accustomed to cheap central bank funds and loose monetary policy over the past decade.

Author: Johan Rewilak, Lecturer, Aston University

UK Rate Rise Has Little Growth Impact, Shows Global Shift

The Bank of England’s (BoE) decision to increase UK interest rates by 25 bp partly unwinds the monetary stimulus it provided last summer, and is unlikely to have a large economic impact, Fitch Ratings says. The BoE looks set to tighten policy slowly, but the first UK rate hike in over decade highlights how shrinking output gaps and tighter labour markets are pushing central banks towards interest rate normalisation.

The BoE said Thursday that its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted by 7:2 to increase the Bank Rate to 0.5%, reversing the cut it made last August in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. It left the stock of bonds purchased under its quantitative easing (QE) scheme unchanged. Prior to last August, the Bank Rate had been unchanged for over seven years. The BoE’s last rate hike was in July 2007.

Fitch has for some time been expecting the post-referendum interest rate cut to be reversed, although in our most recent Global Economic Outlook (September 2017), we expected this to happen in early 2018. The MPC summary said that all members agreed that future increases “would be expected to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent,” and that monetary policy “continues to provide significant support to jobs and activity.”

We think another increase is unlikely in the next 12 months, given the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the outlook for investment. Today’s decision does not alter our UK growth forecasts , which see a net trade boost partially offsetting slower domestic demand this year, enabling real GDP to rise by 1.5%, before slowing to 1.3% next year. But it remains to be seen how firms and households adjust to a shift in the monetary policy stance after such a long period without a rate rise.

While the BoE has no intention of slowing the economy down, its decision highlights how tighter labour market conditions (UK unemployment is at a 42-year low) and concerns about adverse supply-side impacts from Brexit have reduced tolerance for above-target inflation. Inflation rose to 3% in September partly in response to the weakening of sterling. We forecast inflation to slow next year, averaging 2.5%, but this would still be above the BoE’s 2% target.

As output gaps close, central banks around the world are generally refocusing on policy normalisation. The BoE said it was “ready to respond to changes in the economic outlook as they unfold” to ensure a sustainable return to target, while supporting the UK economy through its Brexit adjustment. Meanwhile the ECB has announced smaller monthly QE purchases from January, while this week’s Fed statement emphasised solid growth and did little to suggest that it felt that recent low US inflation readings were becoming more persistent.

UK Government Plans to Increase Social Housing Grants

From Moody’s

Last Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that housing associations and local authorities will receive an additional £2 billion in grants for social (i.e., public) housing, including social rented homes. She also announced that rent increases will be set at CPI plus 1% starting in fiscal 2021 (which starts 1 April 2020) for five years. These announcements are credit positive for English housing associations because they signal greater support for the social rented sector.

Increased grant funding will reduce external financing needs and provide incentives to focus on social renting activities, which provide more stable cash flow than markets sales. The rent-setting regime provides clarity about housing associations’ operating environment and signals a shift from the previous government policy, which had negative financial effects on the sector.

The amount of grant funding available under the Affordable Homes programme for housing associations and local authorities will increase by £2 billion to £9.1 billion over the length of the program. Housing associations historically have relied on government grants to finance the production of new social homes, but such grants have significantly dwindled since the financial crisis.

The new grant programme aims to fund the construction of an additional 25,000 homes, and we expect the average subsidy per home to more than double to £80,000 from £32,600 in the last allocation round of the programme in 2016 and from £23,500 in the 2014 round. Although the distribution of the grants will depend on yet-to-be-defined criteria that determines which areas are most in need, we expect the 39 English housing associations that we rate to receive £650-£900 million of new grant funding, which would contribute to financing 8,000-11,250 homes.

The additional grants will reduce housing associations’ external financing needs, and should reduce future borrowing, which we currently expect will reach nearly £4 billion during fiscal 2018-20. However, some housing associations may choose to use the freed-up financial capacity to further increase their production of homes for open market sale rather than to stabilise indebtedness.

The grant programme signals a rebalancing of the government’s position in favour of rented social housing. The social letting business provides more stable cash flows for housing authorities than low-cost home ownership programmes, which had been at the centre of the previous housing policy. The lack of grants for building social rented homes and political pressure had encouraged housing associations to subsidise social homes by building units for open market sale that expose housing associations to the cyclicality of the housing market. The share of such sales to turnover has steadily increased over the past five years, reaching 15% in fiscal 2016 for our rated issuers and more than 40% for a small number of housing associations. Hence, this shift in the availability of funding and the direction of policy is credit positive.

BOE Warns Popular 35-Year Mortgages Shackle Consumers With “Lifetime Of Debt”

From Zero Hedge.

Consumers in the UK have been on a credit binge since the Bank of England cut its benchmark interest rate to an all-time low as investors braced for the widely anticipated economic shock of Brexit – a shock that, unsurprisingly, has yet to arrive, despite warnings from the academic establishment that a “leave” vote would trigger an imminent economic catastrophe. And now, with total credit growth rising at 10% a year, the BOE is warning that the increase in unsecured lending is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

While the central bank is less concerned with mortgage debt than credit-card debt and other types of consumer credit, some at the bank are beginning to worry that the growing demand for long-term mortgages will shackle borrowers with a lifetime of debt, according to the Telegraph.

 “British families are signing up for a lifetime of debt with almost one in seven borrowers now taking out mortgages of 35 years or more, official figures show.

Rapid house price growth has ­encouraged borrowers to sign longer mortgage deals as a way of reducing monthly payments and easing affordability pressures.

Bank of England data shows 15.75pc of all new mortgages taken out in the first quarter of 2017 were for terms of 35 years or more. While this is slightly down from the record high of 16.36pc at the end of 2016, it has climbed from just 2.7pc when records began in 2005.”

The steady rise has triggered alarm bells at the BOE, prompting regulators to warn that the trend risks storing up “problem[s] for the future” if lenders ignore the growing share of households prepared to borrow into retirement. Indeed, bank figures show one in five mortgages today are between 30 and 35 years, up from below 8% in 2005, as the traditional 25-year mortgage becomes less popular.

There’s also the unaffordability question. That borrowers are opting for longer mortgage terms means they’re finding rent and mortgages are growing increasingly unaffordable, a worrying sign as credit expands.

David Hollingworth, a director at mortgage broker London & Country, said the trend showed that an increasing share of borrowers were “struggling with affordability pressures, and deciding that lengthening the term will offer leeway” as house price growth continues to outpace pay rises.

Sam Woods, the chief executive of the Prudential Regulation Authority, has said policymakers are watching developments closely.

“If lenders become too narrowly preoccupied with the profile of the loan in the first five years” and not look at the entire profile of the loan when assessing affordability “this could store up a problem for the future,” he said in a speech.

While interest rates are expected to stay low, the pound’s 15% drop against the dollar since the last year is driving up the price of consumer goods, adding to the pressure on borrowers. Prices of consumer staples are growing at an annualized rate of 3%, far more than interest rates on savings accounts.

Vanguard’s UK Online Investment Platform Is Credit Negative for Incumbent Players

From Moody’s

Last Tuesday, low-cost fund provider Vanguard (unrated), announced its intention to enter the UK’s direct-to-consumer online investment market. Vanguard’s entry into the UK retail online investment market is credit negative for incumbent online platforms such as Hargreaves Lansdown (unrated) and FIL Ltd.’s (Baa1 stable) Fidelity FundsNetwork because it will likely trigger a price war that costs incumbents their profitability.

Vanguard’s online service, the Vanguardinvestor, lets UK retail investors directly access a wide range of Vanguard’s exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without using a broker or financial advisor. So far, most of Vanguard’s UK business has been sourced from brokerages and financial advisors, which typically require clients to have minimum account balances of at least £100,000. Using Vanguard’s online platform, retail investors will now be able to open an individual savings account with £500 or a monthly investment of £100. And, Vanguardinvestor will charge a flat administrative fee of 0.15% (capped at £375 per year), which is lower than the 0.45% fee that Hargreaves Lansdown, the UK’s largest online provider, charges (see Exhibit 1).

Vanguard will target investors from both the mass and mass-affluent markets – those with savings of £5,000-£50,000. These investors lost access to advice in 2013 with implementation of the UK’s Retail Distribution Review (RDR) and invest directly. In a November 2012 publication, Deloitte estimated that the RDR had created an advice gap population of as many as 5.5 million people.

Gross inflows into stock and share individual savings accounts in 2015-16 totalled £21.1 billion, and this segment has been growing (see Exhibit 2), driven by the tax-free individual savings account allowance increase to £20,000 from £15,240 in April 2017 and new products. In addition to individual savings accounts and defined-contribution pensions, general investment accounts without any tax wrapper are benefiting from investor inflows as people become increasingly aware of their investment options. Vanguard announced plans to launch a self-invested personal pension in the future.

Vanguard’s online service also targets younger investors such as millennials, who are comfortable with online services and are not yet a target for financial advisors or wealth managers. As they evolve in their careers and garner higher incomes, this demographic will be accustomed to low-cost services and investment funds. Vanguard’s online service in the UK is so far limited, but we can see it evolving toward robo-advice as it has in the US with The Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services.

Incumbent platform providers will likely lower administrative fees and increase services to maintain market share, but this will compress their margins. Given the high and rising costs of running online services, smaller platforms with less price flexibility such as Interactive Investors (unrated) and Nutmeg (unrated) will be most challenged. Cheap online investment services will also accelerate the adoption of low-costs index trackers and ETFs among UK retail investors. Active managers such as Aberdeen, Henderson, Schroders, and FIL Ltd. Will face fee and margin pressure as a result.

In addition, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority’s upcoming investment platform market study to improve competition between platforms and improve investor outcomes is likely to challenge most platform providers’ prices and Vanguard would be well positioned for any price war. As the best-selling fund manager in 2016 and second-largest asset manager globally, Vanguard has the scale, resources and brand necessary to disrupt the UK retail market, which was £872 billion as of year-end 2015. In the US, where Vanguard provides a similar online-value proposition, platform costs went down.

UK Home Price Growth Eases

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, average house prices in the UK have increased by 4.1% in the year to March 2017 (down from 5.6% in the year to February 2017). This continues the general slowdown in the annual growth rate seen since mid-2016.

The average UK house price was £216,000 in March 2017. This is £9,000 higher than in March 2016 and £1,000 lower than last month.

On a regional basis, London continues to be the region with the highest average house price at £472,000, followed by the South East and the East of England, which stand at £312,000 and £277,000 respectively. The lowest average price continues to be in the North East at £122,000.

 The East of England and the East Midlands both showed the highest annual growth, with prices increasing by 6.7% in the year to March 2017. This was followed by the West Midlands at 6.5%. The lowest annual growth was in the North East, where prices decreased by 0.4% over the year, followed by London at 1.5%.

The UK HPI is a joint production by HM Land Registry, Land and Property Services Northern Ireland, Office for National Statistics and Registers of Scotland.

The UK House Price Index, introduced in June 2016, includes all residential properties purchased for market value in the UK. However, as sales only appear in the UK HPI once the purchases have been registered, there can be a delay before transactions feed into the index. As such, caution is advised when interpreting prices changes in the most recent periods as they are liable to be revised.

British prime minister calls snap general election

British Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election for 8 June.

She made the announcement in Downing Street after a cabinet meeting.

With a Commons working majority of just 17, and a healthy opinion poll lead over Labour, senior Tories have suggested Mrs May should go to the country in order to strengthen her parliamentary position.

Such a move would also give a mandate both for her leadership and her negotiating position on Brexit before talks with the European Union start in earnest.

Justifying the decision, Mrs May said: “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.”

She said the government has a right plan for negotiating with European Union.

She said they need unity in Westminster, but instead there is division.

From RTE.

The current 5-year fixed term should run to 2020, and will require a 2/3’s vote in Parliament to progress. This may cause significant heartburn in Labour circles in Britain!

The FT Index fell on the news.



London Housing Market Takes A Bath

At the end of 2016 we reported that the formerly invincible London home market had suffered its biggest crack in years, when home prices plunged the most in six years according to Rightmove via Zero Hedge.

Asking prices in London dropped 4.3% in December with inner London down 6%.  Meanwhile, the most exclusive neighborhoods, like Kensington and Chelsea, recorded even sharper declines at nearly 10% as home buyers migrated to cheaper areas of the city.

While it was unclear what was the catalyst: whether post-Brexit nerves, China’s crackdown on capital outflows, the ongoing depressed commodity market, or reduced migrations by wealthy Russian and Arab oligarchs, what is obvious is that the slump has continued, and according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, its price balance for the city fell to the lowest since February 2009 last month, plunging to minus 49, which means that a greater percentage of agents reported drops in March.

Still, as Bloomberg reports, more respondents than not still expect prices in London to rise over the next year, the report showed. they may be disappointed.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics said that the London measure tends to represent the prime market rather than the city as a whole. The slump in the gauge tallies with other reports of sellers in central London having to cut prices to close deals.  Nationally, the RICS price index stayed at 22 in March, though the expectations for both values and sales over the next year weakened. New buyer inquiries and sales were stagnant, with the most expensive properties among the worst performers, according to report.

While buyers – especially those relying on mortgages – remain largely locked out of the market because of high prices, nervousness about Brexit and the U.K. outlook, price downside according to realtors may be “limited because of the continued shortage in the supply of property to buy, with estate agents’ listings reportedly at a record low.”

Which is odd because a cursory check reveals not only that there is a glut of high end properties, many of which have been on the market as long as a year, but that despite huge discounts as high as 40%, nothing is moving, and just this one listing service has no less than 124 pages of properties – at 15 properties per page – with price declines in Kensington and Chelsea alone, up from “only” 53 pages when we last looked at the same website back in December.

“High end sale properties in central London remain under pressure, while the wider residential market continues to be underpinned by a lack of stock,” said Simon Rubinsohn, RICS chief economist. “For the time being it is hard to see any major impetus for change in the market, something also being reflected in the flat trend in transaction levels.”

Britain’s housing market is in poor health, but it’s not just a shortage – here’s why

From The UK Conversation.

The UK’s housing market is in critical condition. The symptoms are stark: demand in several regions far outstrips supply, prices relative to earnings in many major cities are beyond the reach of most people, home ownership is increasingly unobtainable, the homeless population is growing and low-income households are too often having to settle for substandard homes.

Yet so far, an exact diagnosis has proved elusive and, as a result, effective treatment has not been administered. The problem is that the housing sector is often described in shorthand – the housing market, “affordable” housing, the neighbourhood, or council housing, to name just four such ways of talking about housing. Each is quite different and even just looking at any one masks more than it illuminates – there is considerable variation in the quality and attractiveness of council housing, for instance.

Housing is a complex, interdependent system, with many components of different types and scales. Its function isn’t isolated from its environment – the operation of the housing system is closely connected to the land market and planning mechanismsas well as the construction and development industries. And housing exists across a range of jurisdictions and tenures, each accompanied by different laws, rights and obligations.

Living history

The mind behind Right to Buy. Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The housing system has also been moulded by history. For one thing, much of the UK’s housing stock is with us as part of a long-established and enduring built environment. It has also been shaped by extensive and overlapping sets of more or less effective government interventions over time: from the garden city movement, to post-war slum clearance, Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy and many others. These policies are situated amid shifts and changes in cultural beliefs about housing, aspirations and material constraints.

Housing systems are affected by economic change and income growth at local and regional levels – as well as interest rates, regulation of mortgage lending, housing taxes and other policies that privilege one set of housing arrangements over another. Demography – encompassing trends in migration, household size and ageing – also contributes to the shape and size of housing demand.

Yet these relationships run both ways. Housing is such a critical consideration for political and economic decisions that the state of the sector directly affects the economy and demography of the UK, as well as being affected by them. In a housing bust, for instance, falling incomes can reduce demand and house prices. But if house prices continue to fall, this can also reduce consumption and spending, as people feel worse off.

Unpicking the threads

When you think about housing as a system, it becomes clear that the “housing crisis” is actually a collection of symptoms from several chronic, overlapping problems. The UK housing market has experienced decades of privileged taxation treatment. Consecutive governments have been obsessed with boosting rates of home ownership. Meanwhile, the development industry’s business model is based on lifting land value, with planning permission from local authorities, which results in the construction of more expensive properties. And there has been long-term under-investment in social and affordable housing, combined with an over-reliance on welfare benefits to offset rising rents.

We know that the housing system is dominated by the existing stock, so it stands to reason that it will take a long time to untangle and address these issues, which have built up over the decades. That is, assuming that political consensus is strong enough to allow coherent long-term policy to move forward in step. This is a fair definition of a “wicked” problem.

To build consensus and tackle these issues, housing policy and practice need to be based on evidence, which is grounded in this systemic point of view. The evidence will need to be nuanced, according to the great variety in the sector across the UK: after all, housing is largely devolved, and significant differences between the situations and approaches in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales are already apparent. For instance, there is no Right to Buy in Scotland – instead, a new private tenancy law will produce longer-term tenancies that may yet encourage more families into the rented sector.

To this end, the University of Glasgow, together with eight other UK universities and four non-academic partners, is embarking on an ambitious programme: the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE). Our aim is to put evidence and analysis back at the heart of this complex social and economic problem. This research will provide the ammunition to influence and transform housing policy and practice through better problem diagnosis, policy evaluation and appraisal of new opportunities, in order to generate improved housing outcomes for all.

You’ve got to fight! For your right! … to fair banking

From The UK Conversation.

British governments have been trying to improve financial inclusion for the best part of 20 years. The goal is to make it easier for people on lower incomes to get banking services, but this simple-sounding target brings with it a host of problems.

A House of Lords committee will shortly publish the latest report on this issue, but the genesis of financial inclusion policy can be traced back to the late 1990s as part of the Labour government’s social exclusion agenda. The scope and reach of this strategy has since expanded beyond a focus on access to products and now seeks to improve people’s financial literacy to help them make their own responsible decisions around financial services.

The goal of increasing the availability of basic banking has become a tool for tackling poverty and deprivation worldwide, among governments in the global north and global south and among key institutions. In 2014, the World Bank produced what it described as the world’s most comprehensive financial exclusion database based on interviews with 150,000 people in more than 140 countries.

Retaliation? mobiledisco/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Muddy waters

However, broad and enthusiastic acceptance of such policy efforts has prompted doubts about the simplistic narrative of inclusion and exclusion. This way of thinking does not capture the complexities of the links between the use of financial services and poverty, life chances and socio-economic mobility. It also ignores the sliding scale of financial inclusion, from the marginally included – who rely on basic bank accounts – through to the super-included with access to a full array of affordable financial services.

You can see the complexity and contradictions clearly in innovations such as subprime products and high-cost payday lenders. They have made it increasingly difficult to draw a clear distinction between the included and the excluded. Mis-selling scandals and concerns over high charges have also shown us that financial inclusion is no guarantee of protection from exploitative practices.

Even the pursuit of better financial education offers a mixed picture. Critics have raised concerns that this shifts the focus away from structural discrimination and towards the individual failings of “irresponsible and irrational” consumers. There is a grave risk that we will fail to tackle the root causes of financial exclusion, around insecure income and work, if policy follows this route.

In the midst of this focus on customers, the government’s role has been reduced to supporting those education programmes and cajoling mainstream banks, building societies and insurers into being more inclusive.

Vested interests. The Square Mile in London. Michael Garnett/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Given the central role that financial services play in shaping everyday lives, a hands-off approach from the state is inadequate. It fails to address the injustices produced by a grossly inequitable financial system. Our recent research examined how the idea of financial citizenship might offer a route to improvements. In particular, we looked at the idea of basic financial citizenship rights and the role that might be played by UK credit unions, the organisations which, supported by government, seek to bring financial services to those on low incomes.

The idea of establishing rights was put forward by geographers Andrew Leyshon and Nigel Thrift in response to the growing lack of access to mainstream financial services. The goal would be to recognise the significance of the financial system to everyday life and set in stone the right and ability of people to participate fully in the economy.

That sounds like a laudable aspiration, but what could a politics of financial citizenship entail in practice?

Drawing on the work of political economist Craig Berry and researcher Chris Arthur, we argue that the policy debate should move on to establish a set of universal financial rights, to which the citizens of a highly financialised society such as the UK are entitled regardless of their personal or economic situation.

  1. The right to participate fully in political decision-making regarding the role and regulation of the financial system. This would entail, for example, the democratisation of money supply and of the work of regulators. Ordinary people would have to be able to meaningfully engage in debates about the social usefulness of the financial system.
  2. The right to a critical financial citizenship education. Financial education needs to go beyond the simple provision of knowledge and skills to understand how the financial system is currently configured. It should provide citizens with the tools to be able to think critically about money and debt, as well as the capability to effect meaningful change of the financial system.
  3. The right to essential financial services that are appropriate and affordable such as a transactional bank account, savings and insurance.
  4. The right to a comprehensive state safety net of financial welfare provision. This could include a real living wage to prevent a reliance on debt to meet basic needs and could go all the way through to the provision of guarantees on the returns that can be expected from private pension schemes.

Establishing this set of rights would be a major step towards enhancing the financial security and life chances of households and communities. The weight of responsibility would shift from individuals and back on to financial institutions, regulators, government and employers to provide basic financial needs. As one example, just as people in the UK are given a national insurance number when they turn 16, so the government and the banks could automatically provide a basic bank account to everyone at the age of 18.

The UK credit union movement does make efforts towards these goals, but it cannot fully mobilise financial citizenship rights largely due to its limited scale and regulatory and operational limitations. For the rights to work, they will need the support of the state, of financial institutions, regulators and employers. That would enable the country to build something less flimsy than the loose structure we have right now, which piles blame onto the consumer and relies on voluntary industry measures to pick up the slack.