Declining state provision, low levels of financial capability (FSA/DTI, 2002), and, it must be added, regulation on savings and investments have impacted severely on the ability of some sections of the UK population to purchase life assurance and savings products. In addition, according to a report submitted to the Treasury, ‘there is a wide consensus that the UK population is not saving enough for retirement. Savings levels are 20 per cent or more below what they should be. The problem appears to be particularly acute amongst the less affluent, where insufficient levels of saving are likely to have a more serious impact’ (Sandler, 2002: 2). This is due in no small part to current banking and insurance practices that have excluded many of the least affluent customers from essential financial services (Kempson and Whyley, 1998; Kempson et al., 2000; NCC, 1997), that afford them the protection of:
[bull ] Financial security for a rainy day;
[bull ] Greater comfort during retirement and old age;
[bull ] Access to greater independence and opportunity throughout their lives; (HM Treasury, 2001b)
Ideally for less affluent consumers, product design should incorporate simplicity and transparency, preferably offer automatic savings of small amounts weekly or fortnightly and be flexible enough for payments to be suspended during times of financial hardship without incurring penalties (Kempson and Whyley, 1998: 50–51).