Britain is the world’s sixth-largest economy, a leading industrialized power that still sees itself as the birthplace of the post-war welfare state. But its stagnant economy has likely just entered what the Bank of England says could be the longest recession and steepest decline in living standards on record, and it’s the only G-7 country whose GDP is still lower than before the pandemic. Britain once compared itself to giants like France and Germany; today, many of its measures look more like the weaker economies of Eastern Europe.
The financial calamity enveloping the UK is so widespread that few escape its lure.
One in 6 UK households are subject to social security checks and almost a third of UK children live in poverty, according to government figures. According to the regulator the Financial Conduct Authority, one in four people are facing financial difficulties or are already mired in them, and nearly 1 in 10 have failed to pay their bills.
This national crisis is caused by soaring food and energy prices, falling wages and collapsing public services. Coupled with months of industrial strikes that have often crippled institutions from railways to courthouses, Britain in 2022 is a place where, for millions, everything seems broken – and is about to s worsen this winter.
In the 12 months to March this year, 2.1 million emergency food parcels were distributed by a growing network of over 2,000 food banks, an increase of around 1 million from 2014-2015 , according to the umbrella body, the Trussell Trust.
Prime Ministers Johnson, Truss and Sunak did not trigger this crisis; the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have caused inflation and supply chain nightmares in the US and elsewhere as well. But critics say the Tories’ 12 years in power – a decade of austerity policies followed by Brexit – have weakened the UK and made it particularly ill-prepared to deal with shocks.
During his brief 49 days in office, Truss tried to reverse that malaise with a menu of hard-line tax cuts that spooked markets and caused his downfall. Now Sunak has announced a dramatic about-face from his predecessor: a series of tax hikes and budget cuts to try to stem the bleeding. (The Conservative Party did not respond to an emailed request for comment.)
“I have no doubt that people are going to die of malnutrition and hypothermia this winter,” said Helen Greatorex, sensible CEO of Citizens Advice North Lancashire, a charity that advises people in crisis and often refers them to the Morecambe food bank. “That’s how bad things have gotten.”
Few places illustrate this crisis as clearly as parts of Morecambe, a bustling former seaside town nestled on the northwest coast of England, which now contains some of the country’s most deprived streets in terms of jobs. , wages and education.
Dusty and Allison
Here and across the country, millions of working families with cars and mortgages are struggling to stay afloat; teachers are more concerned with feeding students than educating them; and proud but desperate people take extreme measures just to stay alive – let alone with dignity.
Among them is Thomas, whose story is not uncommon. He has received state benefits for a range of physical and mental health conditions, from diabetes to post-traumatic stress disorder since his time in the armed forces.
But rising costs mean that these benefits no longer cover the essentials. Thomas paints a bleak picture.
“There is no end in sight,” he said. “Nothing is going to get better for me. I have nothing to look forward to.”
Poverty is strongly linked to an increase in mental and physical health problems, according to the charity Center for Mental Health. Story after story in Morecambe confirms this.
Across town, in an apartment on the top floor of a converted house, aspiring journalist Allison Tyson was wrapped in a thick coat and scarf, spending her meals for the following days: eight packets of instant soup house brand that cost 90 cents (about $1).
“They’ll last me about three days,” said Tyson, 44, as he spread the bundles of cash on his kitchenette stove. “I can’t afford” anymore.