Opinion  

Small steps, bigger picture

Simoney Kyriakou

Simoney Kyriakou

The Autumn Statement kick-started a lot of the positivity, highlighting figures that cited a reduction in the levels of national and personal debt and stating that for every one job lost in the public sector, three jobs had been created in the private sector.

Then the department for work and pensions announced that employment hit a new record high this month (December) with more than 30m people in jobs for the first time.

Independent pensions guru Ros Altmann followed suit, issuing a statement that said: “Leading indicators show UK set for a pre-election boom. They have been strong for months now and are getting stronger.

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“Mainstream forecasters and commentators have ignored the strength and breadth of this recovery and have instead focussed on lagging indicators, or have become so used to bad news that they are finding it difficult to see the boom coming.”

She cited the growth of employment, politically well-timed recoveries, an economic upturn, a lower-than-feared impact of the austerity measures and a housing market that is continuing to “deliver a feel-good factor and growth”.

Meanwhile mortgage lending continues its upward trend, deposit levels are creeping upwards, personal debt levels are starting to be reduced and we have not seen the mass exodus of the wealthiest people from Britain seeking a more favourable taxation climate overseas.

So why do I still feel nervous about 2014?

Maybe it’s because of my social worker tendencies. My editor says I have a social worker’s mentality. This is perhaps unusual for someone who used to be a young Conservative. But perhaps it is also to do with a lot of other warnings.

The Pope started it of course, warning about gaping inequality in the world. This view was soundly rebuffed by someone at the Financial Times - our sister paper - but I can’t help by feel that his Popiness had a point. The general trend of capitalism may have helped to lift thousands out of poverty, but it has also dug the trenches more deeply, creating a vast no-man’s land between the world’s wealthiest and the world’s poorest.

Charities, too, have made startling revelations about the rise in people in the UK seeking help from food banks. According to the Trussell Trust, 13m people live below the poverty line in the UK.

Thirteen Million people in the UK. Below the poverty line. Where exactly are we drawing this demarkation point? One in every five people in our country are living below the poverty line. People are being tied up by loan sharks, forced to choose between paying ever-increasing heating bills and buying ever-more expensive food as inflation at 2.7 per cent still exceeds the average wage increase of 1.4 per cent.

The Bank of England itself declared that a 2.5 per cent rise in the base rate would push 8m people with mortgages into serious financial difficulty.

How can we claim that 2014 is set to be a good year all around when one fifth of the UK’s population is already considered to be poor, and a further 8m homeowners may find their mortgage becomes a millstone?