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UK Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey 2021: Future Focus Report

Evidence type: Insight i


‘Future Focus’ is one of the five Agendas for Change the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) identified in its UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing 2020-2030. It focuses on the need for people to engage with their future and be empowered to make informed decisions for their retirement and later life. It emphasises a shift from passive to active engagement with planning for our future wellbeing compared with previous policies such as autoenrollment into pension saving schemes.

The Future Focus national goal states that, by 2030, there will be five million more adults in the UK who feel they have enough knowledge to make informed decisions for their retirement or, if they are already retired, to feel confident making decisions about their later life. In 2018, there were an estimated 23.6 million adults of working age (18-64) in the UK (45% of the working-age population) who felt confident with such decisions.

The study

This report describes the results of analysis by the Money and Pensions Service of the 2021 UK-wide Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey to explore what working-age adults have done to plan their finances for later life and the extent to which they understand enough to make financial decisions about later life (the Future Focus national goal).

The 2021 Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey was a survey by Critical Research of 10,306 adults (ages 18 and over) living in the UK. Data were collected using a mixed-mode approach in July-September 2021: online panels; online survey completion via postal invites; and paper survey completion via postal invites (postal invites returned a total response rate of 4.5%). Over-sampling of the devolved nations, quota sampling and stratified geodemographic profiling were undertaken and the final data were weighted to be representative of the UK adult population along geographic, demographic and socio-economic dimensions and internet usage.

The analysis reported here was based on a nationally representative sample of 8,453 people of working age (ages 18-65) and makes comparisons to findings from the previous survey undertaken in 2018.

Key findings

This study reports differences that are statistically significant where p<.05.

  • Understand enough about pensions to make decisions about saving for retirement (the national goal): 47% of working-age adults in 2021 said they understand enough. This compares with 45% in 2018.
    • 39% of women and 55% of men said they understand enough.
    • Comparatively high proportions saying they understand enough included: 51% of coupled parents; 50% of those not reporting disability/long-term health conditions; 50% of those not reporting mental health problems in the last three years; 60% of those in the highest income bracket; and 53% of financially ‘cushioned’ working-age adults.
  • How much have you done to plan your finances for retirement: 52% of working-age adults in 2021 did not have a plan. This compares with 56% in 2018.
    • 60% of women and 44% of men did not have a plan.
    • Comparatively high proportions saying they did not have a plan included: 59% of 18-24-year-olds (compared with 74% in 2018); 57% of those reporting mental health problems in the last three years; 61% of those in the lowest income bracket; 68% of those in rented homes; and 63% of financially ‘struggling’ working-age adults.
    • 77% of those who said they do not understand enough to make decisions about retirement did not have plan.
  • Paying for retirement: 66% of working-age adults said they expected to pay for retirement with the state pension and 60% with personal or workplace pensions.
  • Explanatory factors: The authors hypothesise about the roles of automatic enrolment, the introduction of pension freedoms, the increasing role of multiple defined contribution pension pots and behavioural biases in people’s ability to understand and plan for their finances in retirement.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: While the report does not cite confidence intervals or statistical significance testing, further information provided by the authors confirms that all differences that are reported are statistically significant at the 95% level of confidence (p<.05).
    • Although the sample is expected to be large, the sample sizes available for the findings that relate to the Agenda for Change are not given.
    • The authors note in the technical report that non-internet users are under-sampled in the data and that people completing paper-based surveys may have had a different survey experience.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: The findings are likely to generalise well to contexts outside of the UK with similarly advanced economies and comparable social structures, particularly in relation to provisions for retirement income and later life care.
  • Relevance: The study is likely to be of relevance to any researchers, policy-makers and practitioners who are interested in financial dimensions of retirement and later-life planning.

Key info

Client group
Year of publication
United Kingdom
Contact information

Money and Pensions Service, 01159 659570

Money and Pensions Service