The number of people paying into personal pensions has dropped sharply in the wake of economic turbulence, official figures suggest today.

Total contributions dropped by 2 billion from 20.9 billion in 2007/08 to 18.7 billion in 2009/10.

A report on pension trends by the Office for National Statistics suggests the drop in the number of people contributing to personal and stakeholder pensions was due to financial pressures during the recession.

Similarly, the number of people who paid into personal and stakeholder pensions decreased from 7.6 million in 2007/08 to 6.4 million in 2008/09, because many people who had been making small contributions stopped doing so as their income shrank.

However, total contributions to private (non-state) pensions rose to 85.6 billion in 2009 from 83.2 billion the previous year, fuelled by a recovery in employer contributions during that time.

This summer, insurer Scottish Widows warned that only half of those aged between 30 and the state pension age were saving enough for retirement, and that one in five were failing to save anything at all.

Last week, a government study showed that only 15% of young workers were paying into a pension scheme at work, compared to 58% of the 45-54 age group.

Pensions minister Steve Webb says there is a need to "inspire a culture of saving" as an estimated seven million people are failing to put aside enough for retirement.

Next year employers will be obliged to automatically enrol staff into a workplace scheme.