The financial well-being of UK households has declined at the fastest rate since the second quarter of 2020 during Q4, as rising living costs squeezed people’s pockets, according to the latest Scottish Widows household finance index.
The index, which measures households’ overall perceptions of financial well-being, fell from 44.0 in the third quarter to 40.1 in the fourth quarter of 2021. According to the most recent survey, employment income has also decreased slightly. Concerns about the impact of inflation caused households to become more pessimistic about their future finances in 2022, with the respective seasonally adjusted index falling from 49.2 to 43.8.
According to survey data on UK households’ future plans, roughly 2 in 5 households, or 41 per cent, were saving for emergencies in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 1 in 3 households, or 34 per cent, in the first quarter of 2021. Other savings priorities included vacations/travel, 26 per cent, and retirement, 20 per cent, though the former dropped from 29 per cent at the start of 2021. Meanwhile, only 14 per cent of UK households reported regularly saving more for retirement during the fourth quarter compared to the previous year, while 22 per cent reported saving less.
Unexpected expenses continue to have an impact on the cash flow of some households. One-fifth or 20 per cent of those polled in Q4 said they had unexpected expenses in the previous month, while 14 per cent said their household income had decreased. At the same time, nearly a quarter or 23 per cent of UK households said they would have withdrawn money from their pension if they could have, rising to 27 per cent for those aged 35 to 44, indicating that the pandemic is still having an impact on some households’ financial resilience.
Scottish Widows managing director retirement and longstanding Emma Watkins says: “It was a challenging end to another year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic for UK Households as rising living costs pinched the pockets of people in the fourth quarter, causing finances to deteriorate at the fastest rate since Q2 2020. With inflation soaring into the new year and cash availability at its lowest since 2014, households’ expectations of future financial wellbeing were the most downbeat since the third quarter of 2020.
“As a result, the strain on current finances has had a knock-on effect to future financial planning. One in five are not currently saving any money, slightly up from the same time last year, and almost a quarter would now consider withdrawing from their pension early if it was possible. With the emergence of the Omicron variant adding to uncertainty, households will undoubtedly be hoping that the impact to their finances is modest as we enter 2022.”
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