Time to restore savings culture

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NEXT WEEK’S Autumn Statement takes on added significance because of the proximity of the General Election. As well as setting the economic parameters to the campaign, Chancellor George Osborne will also be setting the political context for the next six months.

He will, inevitably, want to contrast this Government’s commitment to deficit reduction with Labour’s profligacy of the past. Mr Osborne will also make a virtue of a record number of Britons now being in work – and his desire to transform the North into his much-vaunted economic powerhouse.

Yet the power struggle between the Tories and Labour over economic competence should not detract from the urgent need to restore Britain’s savings culture. Though it should be a matter of pride that unemployment has fallen sharply since the recession, Mr Osborne must not allow arrogance or complacency – or both – to detract from concerns about the ‘cost of living’ that Labour has identified as a core electoral issue.

The simple fact of the matter is that a significant number of workers in low-paid jobs cannot afford to make provision for a pension, despite its importance to their standard of living in later life, and this is highlighted by a new survey which has concluded that one-quarter of all people aged over 55 do not expect to be able to afford to retire.

The social consequences could become marked – the Government facing an even greater bill for care costs and a scarcity of job opportunities for younger generations because a greater proportion of the population is in employment at any one time. This is why Mr Osborne needs to look to both the short-term and the future, not least the need for more families to embrace the importance of pensions rather than regard it as an optional extra. For, unless people save for the future, it will be the Treasury that is left to pick up the pieces.

Drug dilemma: Ethics of pharmaceutical firms

AS THE respected King’s Fund think-tank challenges the Government to provide an extra £2bn in the Autumn Statement to help to stave off a “financial crisis” in the NHS this winter, perhaps Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt should review how the business practices of major pharmaceutical companies are putting budgets under even greater strain.

It comes as GPs in the Vale of York, an area bedevilled by longstanding financial challenges, examine using the drug Avastin to help treat patients in danger of losing their eyesight. They contend that the benefits are medically proven and that it could accrue annual savings of £4m locally and £800m nationally – a significant sum from Mr Hunt’s perspective.

The problem is that Avastin is not yet licensed and its manufacturers appear to have no immediate plans to do so. However the suspicion is that a greater financial return can be yielded from the continued use of licensed drugs like Lucentis which are far more costly. And then there is the question of medical ethics – General Medical Council guidelines say unlicensed drugs should only be prescribed if “there is no suitably licensed medicine that will meet the patient’s need”. The problem is that Lucentis meets this criteria – but its use has significant cost implications at a time when the NHS needs to maximise its resources.

Is there an alternative – and will the drugs industry comply? At the very least, Mr Hunt needs to explore possible remedies. For he, and the Government, simply cannot afford to ignore this issue if more patients with degenerative eye conditions are to receive life-enhancing treatment.

Hull of a challenge: The politics along the Humber

WHEN it comes to local and regional identities, it is, invariably, in the east of this region where passions run deepest – mere mention of the word ‘Humberside’ prompts howls of derision from those who campaigned for 18 years to persuade the Royal Mail to drop the shortlived county name from postal addresses.

Yet, while this ill-feeling should not be ignored, such grievances must not stand in the way of economic progress in one of Yorkshire’s most deprived areas. Hull and the communities located on both banks of the Humber Estuary need to place themselves at the vanguard of the North’s revival, and the primary duty of politicians is not to allow any local animosities to stand in the way of this. Residents should have nothing to fear from councils working together if this yields new investment in addition to the Siemens wind turbine factory which has the potential to be a major catalyst for change in both East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.