Managing money

Personal finance education in the UK

by Madaline Dunn

Although personal finance is now an educational requirement in the UK, it’s well known the curriculum around this topic is not up to scratch. Many leave school without a real grasp on the ins and outs of personal finance, whether that’s interest rates, mortgages, or managing money, and as a result, research shows this leaves youngsters vulnerable to making harmful decisions around their finances.

Financial literacy empowers people to make informed choices about how, when and where they spend their money, and ensure they’re not left open to unsustainable borrowing, and unwise investments that could lead them down a road of debt.

At The Salary Calculator, we’ll explore why education around personal finances in the UK needs to improve, and the consequences of financial illiteracy.

A lack of financial literacy and its consequences

According to research, we begin to develop “vital money habits and skills” between ages three and seven. Despite this, only around 38% of children and young people receive some form of financial education while in school, and in 2016, half of Brits failed a financial literacy test run by the OECD, placing Britain significantly below France, Norway and Austria.

The consequences of this lack of financial literacy, means that young people are largely unprepared to deal with the different financial situations they are confronted with as they move into adulthood.

Research from Santander UK has even found that two-thirds of young people attribute their debt problems to a lack of financial education. Meanwhile, an inquiry commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in partnership with Lowell, found that 24 million adults are not confident handling their money on a day to day basis, and one in eight young adults who took on a “buy now, pay later” credit agreement were eventually contacted by a debt collector.

Speaking about what the Santander UK study shows, Mike Regnier, CEO of Santander UK, said that fostering key money management skills at “an early age” will ensure that future generations leave school “equipped with the foundations for financial independence, and the skills to make better financial decisions.”

Meanwhile, John Pears, UK Chief Executive at Lowell, said that now, more than ever, with the cost of living crisis reaching extreme levels, financial literacy would be a “strong barrier.” Pears admitted that as a country “we just aren’t good enough at it,” and outlined that the company’s own customers have outlined how “ill-prepared” they are when facing debt. He added: “The lack of financial literacy and budgeting skills creates spirals of debt that are hard to break and have a long-lasting impact, individually and on our economy.”

Education around personal finance should start at school

The CSJ and Lowell conducted a poll of 4,000 adults and found that 44% of all adults, and two-thirds of those aged 18 to 34, believe that if they had received financial education, for example around basic money skills, they would be more financially prepared for life and its challenges. Yet, in the 2021-22 Young Person’s Money Index report, just 8% of young people said they received most of their financial education at school.

Yet, according to Fintec, when children receive education around finances at school, they’re more likely to handle their finances better, save up frequently, have a bank account and generally feel more confident navigating finances.

Speaking about the advantages of educating children about finances from a young age, Martin Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said that children are “professionals at learning.” He added: “Teaching children is easier than teaching adults. That’s why, in our education campaigns, we focus on children –  because the job of educating society is so much bigger. If you start with children and keep doing it over 30, 40 years, you’re going to work through [society] better.”

Programs and initiatives to enhance education

Back in 2014, financial education was brought into the secondary school curriculum, as a component of the “citizenship” element of the national curriculum at key stage 3 and 4. This was introduced as a way of providing students with guidance on managing money, and tools to plan for their future financial needs.

However, despite being compulsory, uptake of financial education in schools is actually quite low. According to Russell Winnard, a former teacher and head of programmes and services at Young Money, there is room for improvement in this area. In 2017, he outlined: “It is compulsory in every secondary school, though that does not apply to academies and free schools. Around 35% – 45% of schools were actually delivering financial education in 2014. Two years on and we estimate it’s still only 40% doing so.”

This is something that has been echoed more recently by Martin Lewis who expressed similar sentiments. Speaking to Future Learn, Lewis said: “There is financial literacy on the national curriculum, but it’s guidance rather than compulsory for many schools. It’s only on the curriculum for secondary schools in England. We have a charity called Young Money where we have a free financial education textbook in every school now, and that’s been incredibly successful, but we still have a problem that some schools don’t teach it, aren’t trained to teach it and won’t.”

To tackle the financial education gap, a number of recommendations have been made by CSJ. Some of these recommendations include:

  • Introducing a new legal requirement for students to receive “at least three ‘experiential’ financial learning lessons” over the course of their school career;
  • A new ‘whole-family’ approach to financial education. According to the report, this would involve bringing in parents and carers into the equation, and introducing what the CSJ called community infrastructure like Family Hubs;
  • Bringing in funding for care leavers and disadvantaged young adults to attend ‘just-in-time’ financial education programmes to reduce cases of rent-arrear driven homelessness;
  • Introducing adult financial education as part of the Government’s £560 million adult numeracy scheme, ‘Multiply’;
  • Completing of the welfare reforms initiated in 2012 by rolling out ‘Universal Support’ to provide vulnerable people with digital and financial skills;
  • Promoting the ‘Help to Save’ scheme to increase uptake among those who are eligible.

Commenting on the changes that need to be implemented, Robert Halfon MP, Education Select Committee Chair, said: “We must be bolder – critically, by adding financial education to the curriculum in primary school in PHSE lessons where money management remains absent in England. Adults of all ages also need opportunities to develop critical financial skills throughout their life, whether that be in the workplace, further education or via the welfare system.

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Monday, June 27th, 2022 Economy No Comments

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