A positive narrative on saving has disappeared in British politics, new analysis finds

4th August 2017

Study of Conservative and Labour manifestos shows a 'significant shift' in both parties' focus on saving and savings Positive discourse on savings most strongly promoted by Labour in 2010 and the Conservatives in 2015 The political discourse of the main UK political parties around savings has significantly shifted, according to a new analysis by the University of Sheffield.

Researchers from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) examined how savers and the saving process have been discussed in the election manifestos of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party between 2005 and the most recent general election in June 2017. It finds that a positive narrative on saving has largely disappeared in British politics and concludes that this marks an apparent end to the high point of 'asset-based welfare'. 'Asset-based welfare' refers to the process of individuals being encouraged to accrue financial assets, such as housing, to take greater responsibility for their own wellbeing  and rely less on traditional welfare provision - for example, income alone. Saving is a key part of asset-based welfare. However, since the financial crisis, the macro-economic significance of private saving appears to have risen although this change now appears to have been superseded by a more negative treatment of the saving concept in British political discourse, which may foretell more profound changes in British economic statecraft ahead. The University of Sheffield's SPERI analysis found: Labour's 2017 manifesto shows a near-disappearance of saving from the party's discourse however, the seeds of this shift were shown in 2015 when pro-saver references were founded on a critique of mechanisms for private savings. It can be speculated that the 2008 financial crisis compelled Labour to defend its record on saving at the 2010 election the 2010 Labour manifesto, in contrast to its predecessor, contained relatively few new spending commitments which may explain its novel focus on measures related to saving. By 2015, Labour's focus shifted away from defending its record in government towards providing a distinctive offer to the Conservatives, who took on much of New Labour's approach to saving. However, this dynamic appears to have changed quickly. The Conservative Party's 2017 manifesto did not entirely abandon a positive saving discourse connected to both housing investment and pension provision but it introduced a negative discourse too, related to social care finance. This is in stark contrast to its 2015 manifesto, where the party's embrace of asset-based welfare peaked. Dr Craig Berry, Deputy Director of SPERI at the University of Sheffield and author of the report, said the positive discourse on saving, which was most strongly promoted by Labour in 2010 and the Conservative Party in 2015, has now largely disappeared. He added: -It is telling that both parties were in government rather than opposition at the time, insofar as this suggests that 'asset-based welfare' is an endemic feature of British economic statecraft, irrespective of which party is in government, and irrespective of what parties say while in opposition. But the 2017 general election appears to have signalled a significant shift. -Whereas Ed Miliband's 2015 agenda can now be seen as an important 'gateway' between New Labour and Corbynism, the shift in Conservative discourse has been more abrupt. However, we should be careful before declaring the onset of a new era in economic statecraft around saving; neither party won a majority at the 2017 election. It is possible that both parties particularly the Conservatives will revive a positive discourse around saving in order to reassemble a compelling electoral offer. Asset-based welfare is down, but not necessarily out. Through its series of British Political Economy Briefs, the University of Sheffield's SPERI institute hopes to draw upon the expertise of its academic researchers to influence the debate in the UK on sustainable economic recovery.

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