WHEN the Standard Life Foundation was given £84 million of unclaimed Standard Life demutualisation cash it said it wanted to channel the money into organisations looking to make a positive impact in the personal finance space.

Indeed, the foundation’s chief executive Mubin Haq said that, with £2m to allocate on an annual basis starting from this year, the aim is to “change the bigger picture in terms of policies and practice in relation to personal and household finances”.

Its first awards look set to do just that. Having just announced an initial distribution totalling £600,000, the charity is contributing £190,000 to a £300,000 project it is running in conjunction with thinktank the Resolution Foundation.

The three-year project will investigate the role of wealth in the 21st century with the aim of influencing policy-making over the next decade.

“Wealth has grown significantly in recent decades, increasing from three to nearly seven times Britain’s GDP - £13 trillion - since the 1980s,” Mr Haq said.

“This shift is driving major changes for Britain – from fast-growing inheritances, to generational gaps, and a decline in the role of income in determining lifetime living standards.

“Despite the growing importance of wealth, there has not been a commensurate increase in its role in policy and research debates.

“Significant but very recent progress in the availability of data on household wealth has not been built on to close this gap by increasing our awareness and understanding of wealth trends, including significant differences across age, generation, gender, place, income and parental wealth.

“Nor has enough focus been given to policy interactions with those trends.”

For each year the project runs, researchers will produce an audit of the wealth of families in the UK, focusing particularly on low to middle income households. The aim is to create a resource that can shape debates about wealth in public policy.

It also intends to choose a separate policy topic each year to do further research on, with the aim of “increasing the visibility of the issue and putting concrete policy options into the public domain”.

While its collaboration with the Resolution Foundation will have a specific focus on wealth, the Standard Life Foundation is also backing projects that look at the other side of personal finance, making awards to two Scottish organisations to help them investigate poverty and social security respectively.

The first, which has received £75,000, is being led by charity Faith in Community Scotland and aims to connect people living in poverty with decision makers to help shape policy decisions on poverty-related issues.

The three-year project will focus specifically on the experiences of young people, those experiencing in-work poverty and those affected by Universal Credit

The second, which has been awarded £150,000, is being run by public-policy thinktank IPPR Scotland. According to the Standard Life Foundation, that project “will develop evidence, ideas and action to shape a social security system which better meets the needs of those living on low to middle incomes in Scotland”.

“IPPR Scotland will use quantitative analysis, focus groups and ideas labs to develop recommendations on how to deliver strategic change and long-term impact,” it said. “Given the recent devolution of social security powers to Scotland, this project could not be more timely.”

The Standard Life Foundation, which expects to award a further £1.5 million of grants this year, has also awarded £104,000 to Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy and £70,000 to Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy.

The former will spend 15 months investigating how the growing trend for single adults to live with their parents affects the finances and financial wellbeing of low-to-middle income families, while the latter will spend 18 months developing an evidence base for action to address financial hardship in rural Britain.

For Mr Haq, providing funding for projects that cover such a diverse range of topics “demonstrates that there are many ways to address financial problems and improve living standards”.

The Standard Life Foundation began life as the Standard Life Charitable Trust, but changed focus after the unclaimed demutualisation money became available in 2016.

A year-long strategic review conducted by Mr Haq after he joined from Trust for London last year determined that the trust could make more of an impact by focusing on effecting change in the personal finance space than by making charitable donations.