Neither a borrower nor a lender be?

Karen Rowlingson and Steve McKay


There is strong support for the principle of saving according to research to be published this week in the new edition of British Social Attitudes. Two-thirds of people think that young people should start saving for retirement as soon as possible, even if this means cutting back on their spending. And almost three-quarters (73%) try themselves to save in practice.

According to official statistics, the amount we save more than halved during the late 1990s, while the amount we borrow has increased. But our research suggests this is not because the public thinks saving is unimportant. Rather, low levels of saving are more likely to reflect lack of money, financial insecurity and the complexity that surrounds some pension and saving products.


Views about borrowing varied between different age and income groups. In particular, people over retirement age and those on lower incomes (often the same people) were the most likely to think that people should never borrow money. For instance, 24% of people in households with an annual income of less than 8,000 thought this (compared with only 3% of those with household incomes of 38,000 or more).

A resounding 83% thought that credit encourages people to spend too much. Far from having 'casual' attitudes to debt, the poorest groups were the most likely to think it should be much harder to obtain credit (52% doing so), even though this would be likely to affect them the most.

There was little evidence that 'borrowers' are expecting government to bail them out in their retirement. In fact, the group who were most favourable about borrowing were less likely than others to think they would have to rely on the state pension when they retired, with only a quarter (24%) expecting this. Whether this means that they will be prepared for retirement is, of course, another question.