Britain on the Brink: Back to the 70s? Panorama

Britain on the Brink: Back to the 70s?

Britain is suffering the longest peacetime slump in decades. Panorama asks whether Britain is able to cope with a new age of austerity with surprising echoes of the 1970s.

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double-dip recession was in the mid-70s. That led to social unrest


and political upheaval, but are all of the ingredients here for a


similar reaction? If we don't find solutions they could have very


large social ramifications, and not very nice ones.


With many predicting that the worst is still to come, tonight Panorama


asks whether Britain is ready and able to cope with a new age of


Times are tough. People worry that we are facing a dismal future.


No growth, high unemployment, deep cuts and little hope.


Clapham, South-west London. For most of the past hundred years or


so, this has been the home to the ordinary man on the street. Average


income, average house price, average lifestyle, home for 9 "man


on the Clapham omnibus". So, how is the ordinary man on the


Clapham Omnibus going to cope with the financial and the economic


challenges that we are facing today? Well, he's been here before.


Tickets, please. The 1970s began with such hope, but


ended with strikes, crippling public finances and soaring prices.


It resulteded in a political and economic revolution, and massive


social upheaval. The land of hope and glory has


become the land of beg and borrow. It is that is ruining this country.


We are not a sinking ship. This country is more like the boiler


room of the Titanic every other day. The only difference is that they


had a band. On the surface, we have come a long


way from the dark days of the 70s, but could today's crisis


destabilise the country in a similar way? Well, it is already


having a severe impact on the lives of many ordinary people.


Hayley Gay is a single working mum, living in south London. She is


juggling her role as a school administrator and bringing up her


two children. You get the wages that come in once


a month. You budget that across the time. The fuel bill, for instance,


whether it is energy, electricity, gas, or car bills are spiralling


out of control. We either buy food or school shoes, but sometimes the


school shoes are bought and therefore you downgrade on the food.


It strikes me as odd that a very advanced country like the UK,


places ordinary working people like you in a situation where you have


to decide between buying shoes for the kids to go to school or buying


food... Yes, it is a decision, yes. It is bleak? It feels that way.


But Hayley's circumstances are not exceptional. One in five UK


families admit that they are now financially living on the edge.


I feel that we have to common miez on everything that we do.


Therefore, I basically do not eat as well, necessarily, so that they


can have the things that they should be provided with.


One of the big financial strains for ordinary working people is the


cost of housing. Back in the 70s, Clapham was seen


as the stereo typical home of the average man, the man on the Clapham


Omnibus. And there was good reason for that.


Houses and rents here were far more affordable then.


Clapham was a place where working- class people grew up, people like


actor, Neil Pearson. I know it was a fairly close-knit


community. I did seem to know pretty much everyone who lived on


the street. When Neil was growing up on the


street, living conditions were often poor and dilapidated, the


kind we thought that we left behind in the archives of the 70s sitcom.


Good Lord! I know it is not five- star, but it is short notice.


There is water running down the walls! You expect champagne? Your


house is on the corner? Yes, the one with the royalist Union Jacks.


This two bedroom flat was home to Neil, his brother and sister and


mother. All three children shared one bedroom. There was no bathroom,


just a tin bath on the sitting room floor.


This is... As I remember it. This is the kitchen.


This is the living room, also unchanged.


This is pretty much as it was. I haven't been in here for 42 years.


It's a little overwhelming. Yvonne Hunt and her husband have


rented the flat since Neil's family moved out 40 years ago. While


inside has remained remarkably unmodernised, outside of the front


door it is now a very different world.


Do you recognise much of Taybridge Road or Clapham as a whole from


those times? It has all changed. You are a lone recommend naent of


that period? Yes. There are more people with more money and sort of,


the people that we know have either died or moved on.


Yvonne is one of the last survivors of a class which is no longer


living on streets like this. It was soldly, what we would see


now as working-class? This was a solid working-class area? I would


not have art I can lated it like that, but I recognise everyone as


being like me it was monolithically one class then. I think it is now


also, but it is a different class. The middle-classes moved in and


gentrified the area, but the rise of financial services as the new


engine of Britain's economy, brought in an even wealthier class.


Yuppies. ! It is them that is pushing the


rents up. These houses were five bob a week rent once. I could


afford to own. Not now, though. What sort of people could buy a


house today? It will be bankers, flavour of the month, obviously.


Definitely bankers, accountants, lawyers, it is a fact if a house


costs �1 million, you must be well paid or independently wealthy to


afford it These price tags have put Clapham


beyond the man on the ordinary Clapham Omnibus. In the 70s house


prices were three tievs average earnings u, now it is over five


times. In London it is worse than that. Pricing people out of their


traditional neighbourhoods have v has made many working-class


families marginallised. The discrepancies between the house


prices and the wages is so great now to when it was in the 70s, when


this was affordable. We are now coming to a point where that is not


the case and aspiration starts to fall back. Once it starts to go,


the aspiration, the hope disappears. For ordinary working professionals,


getting the keys to a family- sized home can involve moving many miles


and hours from your place of work. It's a move that the Pilditch


family felt forced to make, leaving their Clapham flat behind for a


house 06 miles away in rural Berkshire.


We needed to put our roots down and purchase, to get on the ladder. We


could have done a tiny little two- bedroom flat in Clapham. For the


money it would absmall shoe box. Now, Justin, a website designer and


Rosanne who works as a personal manager, each spend three hours a


day compute commuting two and fro work in London.


I think if you are professionals, bankers, lawyers, those are the


people who can have the houses. There is talk of a squeezed middle,


do you feel squeezed? Yes, definitely. The costs and the


expenses in life are going up. Not least of which the train fares, the


electricity and everything else like that, but salaries are not


going up in the same way that they did 20 years ago. You have to draw


the balance between what you are going to eat, not the meat, you


have to get them meat for their diet, but if food, fuel, everything


is increasing, the challenge is harder and harder, you run out of


options. The notions of a squeezed middle is


more than middle-class mooning. Average real earnings fell by 3% in


2011, that is the largest one-year fall for 30 years.


Little wonder the Government's just reversed its plans to raise duty on


fuel. That squeeze is also felt in the


falling amount of money we have in our pockets for essential weekly


shopping. Although average inflation has been relatively mod


estover the past few years, the cost of things that we buy each day


has gone up dramatically. My daily cup of coffee, for instance, is


around 30% more expensive than it was just four years ago. That is


around 2.5 times the rate of inflation.


Tastes the same, though. It's not just coffee, over the past


year or so, fuel and utility bills have rocketed. Gas is up 16%, the


cost of childcare is up nearly 6% and this while we are told that


official inflation is just 2.8%, but what many notice the most is


the rising cost of food. Been here before as well! Yesterday


I went in the same shop it were 7.5 for a tin of tomatoes. They have


gone to so.5. They were doing them like that that is in a day! In the


70s, in flaigs pressures were clear to everyone, but -- inflation


pressures were clear to everyone, but are they so cleared to today?


We are at a fish stall, what has happened to the price of white?


What do you say? Shout it out, what do you think? Gone up. It has gone


up 12%! So that is something like four times the actual rate of


inflation. That's just the past year! What


about over the last four years? What do you think may have happened


to the price of rump steak in the past four years? 10%? 10%? It is


worse than that. Is a%.


Is a%? It is worse than that. It is worse than that. 20%.


22% it is worse than that, over the past four years, the price of meat


is up 26%. Despite the fact that the inflation


rate is not up to the levels of the 70s, people are feeling the pinch.


Poorer people spend a higher proportion of income on basic


products like food and fuel. Exactly the feigning thing thats


that have gone up the most. There is a big difference between


the general inflation rate and the rate at which the things that we


really need, food, housing or childcare are becoming more


expensive. At the same time, their incomes are stagnant or sometimes


going down. So you are trying to pay for the same thing, with more


for it and less money to spend. The lowest-paid are the worst


affected. Their pay fell by almost 5% between 2010 and 2011.


While so many are struggle, there is a growing feeling that the rich,


by contrast, have never had it so In fact, the share of income of the


top 1% doubled between the years The highest earners often justify


those kinds of rewards by claiming they're creating wealth for


everyone, producing jobs, businesses and money that would


It wasn't restraint that started the Industrial Revolution. It


wasn't restraint that inspired us to explore for oil in the North Sea


and bring it ashore. It was Positive, vital, driving,


Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, the


last time the UK was in a double- dip recession. Her answer to that


economic chaos was to release the full force of the free market.


We'll do it by letting profits rise to a level which offers a real


One of the biggest long-term beneficiaries are the bankers and


Fund manager Crispin Odey is one of the new class of Britain's super-


rich. According to the Sunday Times Rich List in 2010, he took home


Together we shall meet the crisis of this country, and tomorrow the


Show me the incentive, and I will show you the outcome. If you're


wanting a vibrant economy, you are going to have winners and losers.


We will only basically save ourselves if we start forgiving the


bankers, because we've got to allow banking to be profitable. If


banking is profitable, people will lend money. If people lend money,


the economy will grow. So you're saying it's actually good for the


whole nation to have an elite group who are wealth creators, because


they drag, in your view, the whole of the nation up. That's what I'm


saying. There's been no shortage of


incentives for the top earners in recent years. It's a reward many


feel is unpalatable, given others in the City are today accused of


sharp practice and potential illegal behaviour. The wider


question is whether the rewards at the top trickle down to the rest of


the working population. If we have an economic model which


increasingly concentrates the fruits of that economy at the very


top, then what happens is you create consumer societies without


the capacity to consume, and that is because you're cutting


Do you want a vibrant economy in which there is change, and where


there is improvement, and there is a general sort of entrepreneurism?


In which case, you're going to get these inequalities. Or do you want


a much more stable society that might not move at all? You can


either all be richer, or you can all be more equal, you can't be


both? That's what I'm saying. And in fact the gap between rich


and poor has grown faster in Britain than in any other developed


country in recent decades. We've done research that's looked into


the future, looked to the year 2020, and what that's telling us is that


gap's going to continue to get The gap's even more obvious when


times are tough, as in this recession. This is a rare sight


South Yorkshire was once synonymous with coal, but now the industry is


all but dead. Hayley Taylor is among those trying to pick up the


pieces. Half a mile below the wet streets of Dennerby lies the seam


of coal upon which the town's poor fortunes are literally built.


There's over a million unemployed now, in't there, so where else can


we go? There's nothing else round here.


Pit villages like Stainforth grew up around Doncaster to service the


mines. Once models of activity and industry, they are now among the


worst unemployment black spots in the country. OK, who's got a mobile


phone on them? What's that mobile phone doing right now? I want it


off. Employment consultant Hayley Taylor


is running a jobs workshop for young unemployed people. Almost a


quarter of under-24-year-olds here are not in work, education or


training. You don't read the paper, how do you find a job in the paper


if you don't read it? Hayley finds that the youngsters she meets are


ill-prepared for the harsh realities of today's employment


market. They don't understand what a CV is, they don't know how to


apply for a job, it's never taught. What is required of them in work,


what a National Insurance card is for, what happens in the working


world, what are the expectations of an employer from an employee.


Teresa is 17. She left school last year but has so far failed to find


work. You don't believe in yourself, why? What is there not to believe


in? I don't know, I've had experience, but when you've tried


so much, it just... I don't know, it makes you feel worthless and


you're not going to get anywhere. It kind of makes you want to give


up, but you don't want to, because you want to get out there and get a


For youngsters like Teresa and her friend Amy, prospects are bleak.


The employment landscape is wholly different to what it was in the


'70s. It was an automatic assumption that all the guys that I


was at school with would follow in their fathers' footsteps, which was


to go and work in the mining industry. The girls, they were very


much evolved in wanting to work for the farm stores, which was packing


food for the supermarkets at that time, whereas now those openings


don't exist, because you know those industries, unfortunately, in


Yorkshire have all gone. Teresa may lack confidence, but she


certainly doesn't lack determination.


When you come into town looking for work, you often can't afford the


bus, can you? No, we walk. How long is it? It's like six or seven miles


each way. That's a long walk. it's tiring. But it shows we're


trying and not just sitting at home doing nothing. It shows we're up


early and wanting to get out there In places like this, the journey


back to work is not one that people can make without help. 20 years


after the coal mining industry largely left the region, there is


still nothing to replace it. It has therefore fallen to the public


purse to support much of this A third of all jobs in Doncaster


are in the public sector. Around a fifth of the working population are


on benefits. How many jobs do you apply for?


week, I would say about 12 or 13. Like two a day. You're not fussy


about the jobs you take? anything. You just get nothing,


just like e-mails, you're either too young or inexperienced.


ruins your confidence, just trying and trying and just getting shot


down. There is talk about an actual lost generation of youth, do you


think that's accurate? I think that's totally accurate. Their


opinion is that there there's no hope, there is no hope for them.


There is no hope of opportunities, no hope of employment, there's no


new business being created. You know, this is just an existence and


not a life, and to hear that is so Though the latest figures show a


slight drop in overall unemployment, more than a million under-24-year-


olds are still out of work. That's one in five, just down from its


record high early this year. The consequences of cutting off a


generation from work and opportunity could be severe.


Those people who are taking the biggest pain are people who had no


responsibility for this crisis. There is a danger of, you know,


spreading social unrest and antagonism towards a society that


seems to deny a significant proportion of the population decent


opportunities and decent Though the causes were complex and


hotly debated, we caught a glimpse of what that kind of social unrest


In August last year, this corner of Clapham descended into chaos. The


shops were looted, buildings burnt on and pitched battles fought with


There were similar scenes in other city centres. More than 4,000


At times of crisis, we've traditionally turned to our


political leaders, trusting they'll have the answer. Today that's no


longer true. In a survey for Panorama, we found that over two-


thirds, 67% of the population, have little or no confidence in our


politicians' ability to get us out Most of the country believes our


political class are simply not up If you had to pick a word to


describe this situation that we're all in now, what would that be?


Quite angry in a lot of ways, because I think the way I see it is


that the people who are actually making the decisions for the


country are people who are out of touch with the people who are


actually at the bottom, who are actually suffering. And also a


sense of not being able to change it, not just being frustrated but


being... Helpless. Helpless, yeah, A lack of faith in politicians is


only part of the problem. Today there is an increasing sense that


we are not all in this together. There are symbols of growing


inequalities everywhere. Take our In the 1970s, footballers on the


pitch felt much like they were the same people who were on the


terraces, there was a continuity between the two. That simply


doesn't exist anymore. Footballers have become so well paid that the


connection between the supporters and the players has disappeared.


Today you have to come down to football's lower leagues, to places


like Brentford, to recapture the togetherness of the '70s, where


supporters still feel they're living in the same world as the


players they're watching. There was a sense that we were, to coin a


phrase, all in it together, that I think is going to be very difficult


to recapture now. Because I think people will look at the super-rich,


the elite in society, and say, well, clearly we're not all in it


together, there are things that I don't know how I'll get through.


Cheer up, could be worse. The state this country's in, you could be


free. Stuck outside, with no work and a crumbling economy. How


The visibly growingly gap in inequality in society is adding to


a sense of tension and anger. Even those who have benefitted the most


in recent years agree that their advancement has caused a sense of


frustration. I think that when the train stops, like it's stopped,


it's then that everybody starts to say who's in first class and who's


in second class, and basically, you know, let's storm the first class.


The disadvantaged feel increasingly lost and isolated. The gap has


widened between those who have and those who have not. People just


don't know where to go. Every time they turn around, there's more


money been taken off them and more charges been put on them. One of


the fears about the country is that there's what they're calling a lost


generation. Do you feel lost? without a job, a job's mainly all I


want, just to get out there and just to do something with every day.


At the end of the 1970s, Britain found an answer to the economic


chaos by identifying the unions as a common enemy and turning to the


free market instead. This time it seems we have a new common enemy,


City bankers. But unlike the '70s, there's no obvious radical


alternative, even though the sense of frustration and anger which lead


to such huge change back then is Next week, Panorama is on the trail


Britain today is suffering the longest peacetime slump in decades. Our economy is in a double-dip recession for the first time since 1975. Panorama asks whether Britain is ready and able to cope with a new age of austerity with surprising echoes of the 1970s. Reporter Adam Shaw examines if we're about to suffer the same social and political upheaval that emerged from that decade.

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