At the time of publication, October 2020, we are halfway through an extraordinary year of change due to the Covid pandemic and resulting recession. The Chancellor now predicts permanent scarring to the economy as a result and national debt is now higher than at any time since the 1960’s.

Having left the European Union in January, achieving a trade deal is also going to the wire. There is the possibility that there will be no deal in place at the end of 2020 and of further divergence from our continental neighbours.

Such significant changes may well affect the statistics in future reports on employee share schemes. It is important to remember that our report reflects last years’ data. We remain, as always, very grateful to the share plan administrators who have taken the time and effort to analyse and share information on both Save As You Earn and Share Incentive Plans. This is especially the case this year when lockdown presented additional problems and disruption.

This year our report paints a fairly stable picture of a mature market. In our third year of reporting on gender differences in participation and financial contributions it is positive to see a small decrease in the gender gap, for example. Our second year of industry sector data means we are able to start comparing for shifts in saving levels and take-up.

There have been discussions amongst the ProShare membership in the past about the need for employee share schemes to maintain their relevance. We should not need to explain them as tax arrangements. For employees they are part of planning for a secure future and important strategic choices for their employers.

Employees having the confidence to invest in their employer at a time of economic uncertainty is a strong statement of loyalty which deserves attention. So too do stories of financial resilience. The happy stories of holidays and weddings funded by money gained through employee share schemes are important, particularly to encourage take up. So too are the stories, harder to find, of individuals who have been able to cushion themselves during difficult times, such as a partner’s redundancy.

Employers now face greater scrutiny of how they treat employees. That will be especially true of those who have taken advantage of government assistance and loans during the pandemic. If taxpayers have funded support, then it is legitimate for public interest to dive deeper into company conduct. This is a trend which has been building in governance through the emphasis on environmental and social governance of recent years, however, attention has mostly been on the environmental side. Even without the pandemic, employee share plans have a case to make on how they factor into government policy concerns, such as the levelling up agenda and financial literacy.

We will continue to press the case for changes to schemes which make them more attractive and easier to manage with government and political audiences. We will also investigate and research those bigger ideas over the coming year so that employee share schemes are seen as part of the debate and the solution as the country starts to focus on how to recover from the dramatic events of 2020.