A study from the University of Birmingham is warning of discontent as households face the cost of nine years of lost growth.
The Financial Inclusion Annual Monitoring Report 2017 finds a further widening of the gap between the wealthy and those less well-off, with little reward for families trying to work and save through the recession since 2008.
Adding to concerns is the imminence of Brexit, with one in five Britons fearing a heightened likelihood of unemployment.
There are some positive trends, with a decrease in unemployment, insolvencies, and repossessions of homes, as well as a rise in workplace-based pensions. But these are more than offset by the fall in wages and savings rates, rising levels of personal debt, and higher inflation.
In 2016, 22% of the population were in low-income household, with 55% of those in working families now living in poverty – a record high. In 2016-2017 the Trussell Trust provided three-day emergency food and support to more than 1.2 million people, compared to just over 61,000 in 2010-2011.
With more than 1.5 million adults lacking access to a bank account, the annual rate of growth in credit card lending is now at a higher level than at the peak of the financial crisis. About 21% of respondents said they would need to borrow money to meet a one-off expense of £200, and 11% said they would not be able to cover the cost.
The report’s co-author, Professor Karen Rowlingson, summarizes:
Things have definitely got tougher. Five years ago the situation was improving for some people, but in the past two or three years, as we can see from all sorts of data, things have clearly taken a turn for the worse.
Unless things change, the outlook for a lot of people appears very challenging – so much so that we could be about to enter a new winter of discontent.
Since the global financial crisis many people have done their best to work and save – yet today, after nine years of lost growth, they’re maybe only back where they started. If the current state of play continues then the people in the “squeezed middle” could be more squeezed than ever – and the people at the very bottom may well be crushed completely.
Rowlingson say the Government’s response of the “universal credit” system of benefit payments may be “catastrophic”: “We can clearly see from the latest available data that the people at the bottom are being pushed further down, and benefit changes are only likely to make that even worse.”