John Oxley

Britain has a Martin Lewis problem

Martin Lewis
Martin Lewis with his CBE (photo: Getty)

Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, has become the sage of the cost-of-living crisis. He is closing in on national treasure status, dispensing helpful advice on TV and online to help people avoid rip-off charges and ensure they are getting the benefits they are entitled to. This is all good work, but as the housing campaigner Anya Martin notes, Lewis, and resources like him, rarely focus on increasing earnings.

Watching the similarly themed American show How to Get Rich on Netflix, the contrast is noticeable. The expert here, an American named Ramit Sethi, does all the Lewis-style tricks to save pennies here and there – but also encourages his subjects to leverage their skills to make more money. This ultimately makes sense, as earning more, whether through reskilling or finding new work, has the potential to make a much bigger difference to your finances than simply scrounging.

Both the country and households are stuck in a scarcity mindset, focused on coping and managing, rather than leveraging the biggest changes

Martin Lewis’s focus is understandable. Advice about maximising income is often bespoke. People have different skills and circumstances, while a special offer on electricity is universal. So too are the basics of paying down debt and saving well. At the same time, however, there seems to be a general British reticence about hustling for more. There is a self-reinforcing cycle in which only get-rich-quick-scammers talk about these things, creating an air of scepticism around making money. Yet hour for hour, pushing for a better job is likely to do more for your life than switching accounts or juggling credit card balances.

It is a curious cultural phenomenon – but more interestingly, the same idea has infected our politics. ‘There’s no money left’ is a handy invocation for our politicians, who would rather argue about how things are distributed than growth.

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