A quarter of people couldn’t afford regular savings of £10 a month
January 21, 2023 3:55 AM   Subscribe


Is life in the UK really as bad as the numbers suggest?

No, it's worse.
posted by reynir at 5:12 AM on January 21 [25 favorites]

Expats gradually morph into emmigrants, and finally refugees.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:21 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]

The article doesn't say why their electric bills are so high, though, so I found this.
First, around 85% of households use gas boilers to heat their homes, and around 40% of electricity is generated in gas fired power stations. Second, these are higher proportions than other European countries. Third, houses in the UK are poorly insulated compared to elsewhere on the continent.
Gas prices are higher than normal due to the Ukraine war.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:35 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]

Don’t forget that trussenomics wrote down the value of the pound
posted by The River Ivel at 5:49 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]

Expanding on the 'no, it's worse': the numbers alone don't give the feeling of sickness and malaise, the disenchantment and cynicism, the feeling that everything is tawdry, broken, tainted, that we live in a grubby and corrupted state, and that collectively we - or rather most of us - are living in a country on an inexorable slide downwards.

This article from The Times about Blyth, a town in my region of the UK, gives a flavour.
Shoppers look weary and sound cynical — ground down, today, by the weather. This year and last, it was inflation, the two years before that it was the pandemic. And, for decades, the town was ground down by decline, closure, deprivation, neglect and bad news. To state the obvious, people look really unhappy.
But a lot of people are cynical about whether a change in government will make much difference, which is telling about how politics is perceived by many:
Not that Labour need feel especially pleased with the anti-government mood. There is no enthusiasm for any politician in Blyth.
Not Sunak, not Starmer, not even Johnson riding back into town.
"Nee bugger gives a shit about us."
posted by reynir at 6:09 AM on January 21 [21 favorites]

I know the problems are deeper and of greater long-standing, but from the outside, Brexit looks like a worse and worse decision all the time. It isn't causing all the problems listed above by any means, but it isn't helping, either.

And, for decades, the town was ground down by decline, closure, deprivation, neglect and bad news. To state the obvious, people look really unhappy.

That was my reaction just from interacting with people in public the last time I was in the UK, which was well before the problems of recent years. Not everywhere and not all the time, but it was a pervasive thing to see.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:21 AM on January 21 [8 favorites]

Do the words Tory, Conservative or Brexit appear in that article? It can hardly be considered credible.
posted by mani at 6:29 AM on January 21 [32 favorites]

Brexit looks like a worse and worse decision all the time. It isn't causing all the problems listed above by any means, but it isn't helping, either.

Brexit was never intended to "help". Brexit was intended shelter the oligarchy storing their wealth in Britain from the EU's disclosure and taxation rules that were to came into effect just weeks after the Brexit vote happened, and it was a rousing success. The well being of the British people was and is completely irrelevant beyond their utility in rubber stamping the process.
posted by mhoye at 6:35 AM on January 21 [65 favorites]

slough of despond trumps sunny uplands (literally)
posted by chavenet at 6:46 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

> Expanding on the 'no, it's worse': the numbers alone don't give the feeling of sickness and malaise, the disenchantment and cynicism, the feeling that everything is tawdry, broken, tainted, that we live in a grubby and corrupted state, and that collectively we - or rather most of us - are living in a country on an inexorable slide downwards.

That's the whole world tho, innit?
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:27 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]

I recently watched the Adam Curtis documentary, Traumazone, that was posted on the blue a week or so ago, that described the downfall of the Soviet Union, as it was savaged by both the rise of the oligarchs and the influence of Harvard economists. So Brexit was a scheme to protect Russian oligarch money? Anytime anyone brings up economics, I just become more and more sure that nobody understands economics. In practice, it’s just the rich using their wealth and power to gain more wealth and power, and everybody else just gets the dregs they cast off. And why we let this happen is the tragedy of human existence.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:32 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]

njohnson23, I suspect you would appreciate Economics for Everyone.
posted by eviemath at 8:49 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]

I left the UK in 2012 so missed the current conservative triggered decline. But when I was living in Birmingham almost everything that I thought was improving the city had a little blue EU plaque on it. The beautiful town hall that I saw a great Iron & Wine concert in? Refurbished with EU funding. Digbeth, an industrial neighborhood that was revitalized into a cool artsy nightlife scene? EU funding. Those little blue EU plaques were all over the place. When I traveled in the UK the interesting new sites were also almost all EU funded. The Liverpool Slavery Museum? Little blue plaque.

Why? Because English and UK politics and the Tories in particular have always shit on the "not London" part of country to the extent that almost everything urban that was north of London qualified for the EU hardship and deprivation based funding scheme's formulas.
posted by srboisvert at 10:06 AM on January 21 [50 favorites]

That's nice but the UK isn't going back into the EU--at least England isn't. Whether Scotland would is another story...
posted by kingdead at 11:14 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]

You think you know where you are from and then they have a vote and decided everyone was dumb idiots and that they welcome economic destruction so long as they get to be a bit more racist. Then they alphabet subsequent general elections to confirm this. Deeply shameful and dumb country.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]

It's just like that Sleaford Mods video.
posted by ovvl at 12:02 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

And in today's episode of How Britain Works Today: the candidate for Chair of the BBC and former Goldman Sachs banker facilitates links between multi-millionaire Canadian and Cabinet Office to facilitate said multi-millionaire loaning then Prime Minister Johnson £800,000, following which said candidate for Chair of the BBC gets appointed as Chair of the BBC courtesy of one Prime Minister Johnson, who also fails to declare then £800k loan in any way.

Nothing to see, just everyday business on Normal Island.
posted by reynir at 12:44 PM on January 21 [9 favorites]

Oh, forgot to mention. The generous Canadian loaning nearly a million quid to the profligate shambling haystack is his distant cousin. Obviously.
posted by reynir at 12:51 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]

I've got a big family vacation in the UK this summer. Were hitting Dublin, Edinburgh, and London. the real excitement for me will be how the wealthier and much more conservative members of the family will either ignore the problems or blame the poor. almost makes me wish I was still a drinker. Of course, we're coming from the US, so the difference may only be a matter of degree.
posted by evilDoug at 1:06 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

MP Sajid Javid says patients should be charged for GP and A&E visits to ease waits.
In Ireland GP practices charge roughly €60 (£52) for an appointment, perhaps the strongest argument against charges is that British patients and voters will not accept it. The 2021 British Social Attitudes survey found 94 per cent of respondents wanted the NHS to remain free.
posted by Lanark at 1:32 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]

. . . in the UK this summer. Were hitting Dublin . . .
Ahem, a word: dEUblIEn
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:34 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]

It's shit but large proportions of the population, including those living under the cosh, think it's the best country in the world and have a massive superiority complex.
posted by knapah at 1:38 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]

As long as there's someone to sneer at, conservatives will be happy with just about anything.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:51 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]

I continue to be baffled by the bad news coming out of the UK... I know when someone is in the depths of a depressive episode, it doesn't help to say "Pull yourself together!"... but, guys...
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:05 PM on January 21

The Conservative Party has literal blood upon their hands. For every pensioner shivering in an unheated house, every child going hungry, every family in housing rated "unfit for human habitation", every person who died waiting hours for an ambulance.

"People are dying — a lot of people, 500 a week, likely more — because they can’t get basic healthcare. Ambulances, beds, medicine, and so on. We’re not talking about Covid. We’re talking about preventable deaths on a Victorian level. Asthma patients. Chest infections. Old people with broken bones. This is happening in the 21st century…in one of the world’s most powerful, wealthiest countries? The mind reels. People are dying of Victorian level problems, ones that are routine to prevent and take care of today, because they can’t get basic levels of modern healthcare. Hundreds a week."

The utter farce and tragedy of Brexit, the collapse of the economy, the destruction of the NHS. And above it all sit the members of the Conservative government, drinking champagne and granting no-bid contracts to their friends from school. It's horrific.
posted by jokeefe at 10:00 PM on January 21 [20 favorites]

Oh England, my England. A quarter of private rentals fail to meet "decent home standards", reports the Guardian. Meaning that 25% of rentals "pose a hazard of immediate threat to a person’s health, aren’t in a reasonable state of repair, or can’t be effectively heated or insulated." This is what a mere 12 years of Tory governance has done to my family's country of origin.
posted by jokeefe at 10:08 PM on January 21 [10 favorites]

I went back to the UK for three weeks this autumn, staying with my parents and working from home. I'm from a middle class commuter town, and I was pretty shocked at the state of the place. I went into the Sainsbury's, and it was dark- the lightbulbs weren't bright, and some of them weren't working at all. It was like they hadn't been replaced since I was young.

I don't think it really means anything, but as a metaphor for a country that's quickly sliding into irrelevance without even noticing it was striking.
posted by Braeburn at 12:24 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]

It's a reasonably common thing to see places with half their lights off to save money, including Sainsbury's (though they don't all do it)
posted by knapah at 1:38 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

One thing that epitomises our miserable state is energy (most homes use gas for heating, and it still makes up a significant percentage of our electric generation as it replaced coal). The government finally intervened to limit consumer prices, but even the limit is roughly 2.5x the pre-ukraine price, and goes up to 3x in April. Businesses are also paying eye-wateringly high rates.

Suppliers can't disconnect pensioners between autumn and spring, and shouldn't disconnect you at any time if you're vulnerable (disabled, have children under 6, have severe financial problems etc). So instead, they've been going to court to get hundreds of warrants rubber stamped at a time to force entry and fit pre-payment meters, or just switch a smart meter to pre-pay mode remotely.

Now those who are in debt and are broke can't put enough money on the meter, and just have to live in the cold and dark. This is known as 'self disconnection' and the energy companies don't give a shit if you're vulnerable. Worse, they even use the meters to collect the debt, so you can put money in and it doesn't even put the lights back on.

The government response to the most vulnerable being forced to live in freezing cold homes in the dark, with the much greater risk of black mold etc? "Energy firms should instead make greater efforts to help those struggling to pay their bills, such as offering credit or debt advice". Or fuck all, in other words.

Basically, we have an awful government who's crushed the economy and public sector with austerity and rising taxes on all but the rich for 12 years, a minimal effort covid response that mostly diverted billions to mates of MPs for useless PPE (we're the only G7 economy still smaller than pre-covid), and very limited help for soaring energy bills. Then you add on Trussonomics, that added hundreds a month to the average non-fixed mortgage (and obviously passed through to rents), and lastly but definitely not least, years and years where Brexit took up all the discussion space, and 3 years of a hard Brexit being 'done' where costs for exporting and importing have risen substantially, a mass shortage of workers, and soaring prices while wages stagnate, because obviously paying workers fairly is 'unaffordable.'

But there is a good chunk of boomers and older X'ers who have benefited from their houses going up in value by large multiples, had better pay and cheap/free education, and generous pensions that have all closed to new entrants, and who don't see what all the fuss is about. Britain is always the best, therefore any shortages or trouble seeing a doctor must be worse on the continent etc. They worked hard and got rewarded, so obviously millenials and zoomers are just whining when they complain about pay, and student debt, and unaffordable housing, or nurses having to go to food banks because their pay has been cut 20% in real terms over the last years and literally are not enough to live on, leading to mass staff shortages in the NHS. And so they reliably vote for the Tory Brexit Cult, while demographics means there's ever more of them for a while yet, while the younger workforce at the sharp end is shrinking.

And brexit can't possibly be revisited or eased, any breath of that evokes screeches of traitor!!! despite it always being a mirage that could not - and has not - work, because there's also a good chunk of people who didn't want 'them' coming over 'here' and taking 'our' jobs and spouting their foreign lingo in waiting rooms, no matter the cost, and they live in key marginals Labour wants to take back from the tories, despite a growning majority of the public realising they've been had.

The tories might finally be deposed in Jan 2025 (latest date a GE can be held) if polling is to believed, but it's still not a sure thing as the leader of the opposition is not exactly inspirational, but at least he's not as marmite as the previous guy. But hope for a better future, especially when you can see how much worse absolutely everything is here compared to our neighbours, is hard to come by right now.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 3:48 AM on January 22 [25 favorites]

mhoye - 'Brexit was intended shelter the oligarchy storing their wealth in Britain from the EU's disclosure and taxation rules that were to came into effect just weeks after the Brexit vote happened, and it was a rousing success'

I am not sure what you are referring to there, other than this being a common belief that conforms with people's biases. The UK has adopted all five of the provisions of the EU tax avoidance directive. Or are you talking about something else, and if so, what?

Brexit wasn't about tax avoidance, but it was a terrible idea, implemented in the worst way by people with limited capacity for humanity or social responsibility, who lack comprehension of economics, demographics, trade, the labour market, science, or international relations, amongst other things. The ERG headbangers may be 'free market' cultists, but the core was a spat between Tory factions, all free of social responsibility, potentially exacerbated by external funding.
posted by asok at 6:51 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]

The scandal of warrants to change meters to pre-payment going through magistrates courts without scrutiny, mentioned by Absolutely No You-Know-What above is appalling. Magistrates rubber stamp these applications thousands at a time, without any investigation into the circumstances of the people into whose homes the pre-payment meters are installed against their wishes. Even the Tory Energy Secretary Grant Shapps is appealing to energy companies to voluntarily cease the practice, which is almost doing something about it.

At this stage there is a chance the Conservatives will pivot to supporting some kind of Customs Union alignment with Europe, due to the obvious economic benefits, which would considerably undermine the lead that Labour currently have, and force Labour into a corner to fight for their unwinnable 'make Brexit work' mirage.
posted by asok at 7:07 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]

Broken Britain - 16 Problems Facing the Country (PDF) by Dr Madsen Pirie President of the Adam Smith Institute

1. The Bank of England is clearly not fit for purpose.
2. The Treasury has a mindset that does not cover the needs of a modern economy.
3. Transport in Britain is broken.
4. The NHS is broken.
5. Education is broken.
6. Justice is broken.
7. Immigration is broken.
8. Housing is broken.
9. Social care is broken.
10. Childcare in the UK is broken.
11. Welfare in Britain is broken.
12. The UK state pension system is broken.
13. Energy in Britain is broken.
14. Regulation is broken.
15. The Civil Service is broken.
16. Government is broken.

Britain is broken and its future looks bleak. Almost all of its institutions and services are in need of change, yet no-one seems able to implement that. Unless there is a change of gear and tempo, the future seems to be one of decline and stagnation.
People are losing hope in Britain and in themselves.

posted by Lanark at 7:10 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]

evilDoug: I've got a big family vacation in the UK this summer.

As much as I loved my time in England & Wales, the once-in-lifetime family trip I had been planning for England has shifted to Paris. It breaks my heart but I just can't.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:16 AM on January 22

Broken Britain - 16 Problems Facing the Country (PDF) by Dr Madsen Pirie President of the Adam Smith Institute

He's not wrong in identifying them, but many of the rest of us might think that as he and his Institute were key advisers to the Tories for decades and pushed the privatisation of 3 and 13 (which he neglects to mention) and were supportive of the Truss/Kwarteng budget (which he neglects to mention) which helped further break 1-16, Madsen maybe ought to pipe down, go somewhere quiet and far away and grow roses.
posted by reynir at 7:31 AM on January 22 [13 favorites]

It's also worth pointing out where all the money is going in the UK in 3 graphs, because it's certainly not going to most workers, the poor, public services, or paying off government debt.

Median wealth by houshold docile - (source)
UK billionaire total wealth over last 30 years - (source)
Corporate tax receipts lost due to tax havens by country

In short, the top 10% in particular have done very well out of the last decade due to asset wealth growth, and even more so at the very top where billionaire wealth has grown by 1000% in 30 years, while almost a third of UK corporation profit is diverted to tax havens. (the UK also being one of the highest causes of worldwide tax revenue loss due to British overseas territories, e.g. the cayman islands and british virgin islands). These trends have all significantly increased since the start of the pandemic.

However, since the billionaires own much of the press, and the BBC has been neutered by a government that is mostly composed of the wealthy and very wealthy (PM and his wife own more than £700m), it's not the sort of thing that makes the news very often. Funny that.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 8:36 AM on January 22 [10 favorites]

Regarding the Adam Smith Institute. Anyone that claims that "free speech" on university campuses is damaging education and working from home is less productive than working from the office, is looking for evidence to confirm their pre-existing right-wing biases. If they've also happened on some of the genuine problems we have, that feels more like luck than judgement.
posted by plonkee at 10:12 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]

They see the same problems, they just want to push their solutions of slashing regulation and taxes on the rich even further, to be 'innovative' and 'disruptive' - they say the problem is too much government, not too little.

This of course was tested to destruction by Truss (& Kwarteng), the PM who did exactly what such think tanks wanted, and the market reaction of basically treating UK debt as toxic waste, with knock on effects with mortgages etc also made her our shortest serving PM ever. However, her plan to trash thousands on laws of environmental protection, workers rights and other public protections at the end of this year survived under Sunak, and is continuing to progress.

There is a class war going on in the UK, and anyone not already a millionaire is losing. The great success of the Tories has been managing to blame everyone else - the EU, the poor, immigrants, remainers - and getting enough people to buy it. I just hope enough are finally growing wise to their lies and callous mismanagement. I fear Labour, even if they win, won't start trying to solve the real problem of vast inequality - such as a wealth tax - as it'd be too radical, and will just shuffle stuff round a bit.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 10:26 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]

Brexit was never intended to "help". Brexit was intended shelter the oligarchy storing their wealth in Britain from the EU's disclosure and taxation rules that were to came into effect just weeks after the Brexit vote happened, and it was a rousing success. The well being of the British people was and is completely irrelevant beyond their utility in rubber stamping the process.

The EU anti tax avoidance directive implemented rules agreed on the OECD level (and somewhat to people's surprise, it was George Osborne who was instrumental in getting those agreed) and were implemented before the UK left. Had they not been, the UK would have had to create their own purely domestic and not linked to the EU directive rules doing largely the same thing. This is a repeated pattern where foolish people believed that leaving the EU would lead to greater legislative freedom to do whatever they wanted when actually even outside the EU there are an awful lot of rules that sovereign nations bind themselves with. I think it was an FT columnist who described the Truss/Kwarteng budget as something dreamed up by someone who had forgotten that they were not governing the United States and do not have the global reserve currency status underpinned by a highly self-sufficient country that covers most of a continent.

Truss thought she was Thatcher but somehow forgot that:
-Thatcher was greatly helped by North Sea gas and later oil royalties which allowed her to cut taxes while not cutting government spending by that much (contrary to what people may remember and what her rhetoric was) and therefore created a folk memory of "cutting taxes created growth". Yeah, cutting taxes but slower than cutting expenditure obviously creates growth but you need export earnings from a commodity boom to do this.

-Thatcher cut taxes in an environment where the highest marginal tax rates were genuinely astoundingly high. Again, you cannot do that trick when that is no longer the case!

-Thatcher de-regulated things in a country which was highly and in many cases inefficiently regulated. You cannot do that twice, the UK already has in most respects an "about right" level of government intervention (if that) and just willy nilly choosing to chop out bits of regulation is cargo cult administration.

-The UK, like most of Europe is facing a demographic challenge which means that tax burden overall has to go up. You can either acknowledge that and get on with it as many places have or witness a degradation in public services over time.

-It is one thing to have arguments with unions when those unions are militant and asking for things that the general public does not think are reasonable (even if I might think they actually were) but it isn't easy to win a PR fight with the nurses union. Even if you do, you're just storing up even more retention problems. Ok, you win, the nurses accept the 2022 pay settlement and go back to work, retention gets steadily worse as junior nurses and HCAs (the real financial stress is at these levels as fully qualified nurses get paid quite a lot more but HCAs do basically all the physically hard and unpleasant tasks on the wards) get alternative jobs working in Asda. Now what? That isn't a long term win.

Finally, yes it is bloody irritating to the Adam Smith Institute popping up with what they think is broken.

3,4,5,6,11,15 are due to persistent under-funding. Yes it is true that per capita real spending on health has gone up but not enough to account for changes in demographic structure.

8 is chiefly a regional imbalance problem - what growth there is continues to occur in London and its very large commuter belt which of course creates an insatiable desire for people to move to a place which is already densely populated.

12, the state pension system works essentially the way it always has. What is broken is the fact that a large number of people do not have the assumed additional occupational DC or DB pensions which the system assumes will be present.

13, Energy works the same way here as it broadly does across Europe. (France is an exception). The UK moved from coal to wind + gas earlier than others and so is suffering in electricity costs now but I don't think there's a strong case that there is a real structural problem there - energy is expensive because it is scarce.

Overall I think there's just a certain sense of exhaustion in government. Sunak is a straightforwardly competent administrator and relatively pragmatic (but an exceptionally wealthy man with very rightwing economic views so he will obviously operate in a particular way) but the moment calls for a lot more than that. It really needs someone who has a broad electoral mandate (or indeed, any electoral mandate) to tackle these generational problems and take the country with them and what we have for the next two years is a sort of vague substitute teacher.

At least the wretched Boris had a genuine electoral mandate and the kind of heft within the party to force them to do difficult things (but not the character to court unpopularity by actually doing them). Sunak can barely keep his government together.
posted by atrazine at 11:15 AM on January 22 [9 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. Clippy says it looks like you are writing a comment that would be better on twitter.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:05 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]

In further fantastic news, the currently sitting parliament will now be bound to discuss reintroducing a version of Section 28, as the British public sign up to endorse pointless cruelty in their hundreds of thousands.
posted by Dysk at 2:52 AM on January 26

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