RUTH SUNDERLAND: Don’t leave lockdown savings stagnating in the bank.

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RUTH SUNDERLAND: Don’t leave lockdown savings stagnating in the bank… put them to good use


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Accidental savings: Britons have squirreled away some £200bn over the course of pandemic, much of which is sitting in accounts earning next to no interest

Accidental savings: Britons have squirreled away some £200bn over the course of pandemic, much of which is sitting in accounts earning next to no interest

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Back in that long-ago time before Covid, the days after Christmas were the time to go out bargain hunting in the sales or to head off on a ski break.

Holidays, restaurants and shopping trips are part of the life we once took for granted, but can now only live when pandemic curbs permit.

One consolation is that some of us are much better off as a result of all the enforced restraint. There has been a high price to pay in joie de vivre, but many people have saved small fortunes on those with the vacations not taken, the cocktails not drunk, and the meals out they didn’t eat.

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Some economists, most notably Andy Haldane, formerly of the Bank of England, have argued this collective accidental treasure chest – worth around £200bn – is a valuable store of pent-up demand.

The idea is that once people are able to spend, they will do so with enormous gusto, to try to make up for lost time. According to this line of thinking, the economy is like a coiled spring waiting to bounce back. It hasn’t happened so far. Not necessarily because the theory is totally wrong; it may have been premature. Certainly, the arrival of Omicron has put a damper on social spending and hit confidence.

Until the new variant appeared, people had begun dipping into savings and making the most of the re-opening in the summer: the latest figures show the savings ratio in the third quarter fell from 10.7pc to 8.6pc.

It may be good for the economy if we all jettisoned our enforced Covid thrift and went on an orgy of revenge spending. Some of the pandemic savings have been going into property moves, which stimulates spending on furniture and home improvements and is therefore positive for the economy.

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Much of it, however, will continue to be kept as a safety buffer. That’s not surprising considering people are worried about their jobs, and about increased outgoings, including bigger energy bills.

In many cases, the money is sitting in bank and building society accounts earning contemptibly little in the way of interest and, with inflation running at more than 5pc, losing significant value in real terms.

Anyone fortunate enough to have built a pandemic stash should look at investing in the stock market. That comes with risks, as we have seen by the way Omicron hit share prices, but it gives the best chance over the long term of beating inflation.

It also means your cash, albeit in a small way, could be helping create growth and employment by backing wealth-generating businesses instead of just festering on a bank balance sheet.

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There are some big opportunities out there, in green energy and in tech. If that’s not your bag, there are more mundane activities such as warehousing, which has come into focus because of the boom in online shopping and supply chain strains.

Earlier this year I advocated a contemporary version of the War Bonds that enabled ordinary people to help fund the victories of 1918 and 1945, which went down well with readers. Rishi Sunak brought in a version of this in the form of green savings bonds to bankroll environmentally-friendly government projects, but the snag was a lousy interest rate.

He should cast his mind back to George Osborne, who in 2015 launched National Savings Pensioner Bonds, paying 4pc over three years. Unsurprisingly, they were hugely popular. So come on Rishi, there’s still time for a belated Christmas gift.

The inadvertent thrift born out of the pandemic has left billions of pounds quietly dwindling in bank accounts. We have a golden opportunity to use the money more constructively. Let’s not squander it.

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