11 August 2013

Six Years is a long time ...

Six years ago, the high summer of economic prosperity ended with an horrific bang.  The Ninth of  August 2007 was the start of the credit crunch and the day the world changed.

We all know what happened next. The credit crunch turned into a financial crisis, which morphed into a deep and nasty recession.  Businesses collapsed, many of them well-loved favourites.  

If you were lucky enough to keep your job, you probably had to accept a pay freeze.   Interest rates were slashed, hitting savers and ushering in an era of uncertainty and austerity.

But a series of reports this week suggests that the economy is finally on the mend.  It's a timely moment to examine the 15 most intriguing ways in which our lives have altered since the darkest days.

1   The £10 Friday feasts.  The microwave had a good credit crunch. When families cut back on the luxury of going out to local restaurants at the weekend, canny supermarkets stopped in to fill their place.  M&S started a trend with its dine-in-for-£10 deal,, and other followed suit.  The upmarket ready meal, complete with side dish and bottle of wine - usually eaten - while watching the TV -is now a staple in millions of middle-class households on a Friday or Saturday night.

2  Bricks and marriage.  The shape and make up of our homes changed irreversibly.  The housing market collapse, which caused misery for solicitors and estate agents, meant that people simply stayed put.  Rather than paying stamp duty to move, home-owners dug into their cellars and extended their lofts.  Houses became more crowded, with grown-up children, unable to find a job staying in the nest.  And many, who might have contemplated splitting up, chose to stay together under the same roof.  Separation just became too expensive, hence the 23% fall in the divorce rate.  (another point here is that more people could not afford proper houses, thus the rise in demand for bed-sits and smaller flats - and an increased up-take in the rent-a-room scheme (https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home/the-rent-a-room-scheme)).

3  Sobriety.  We didn't drown our sorrows: the average British alcohol consumption fell from the equivalent of 9.2 litres of pure alcohol during 2007 to less than 8 litres last year.  This was partly because of increased prices.
Puritanism entered the work place too. Out went the fruit-platters in boardrooms and free biscuits in meetings.  In came white shirts for men and tan tights for women.  Was the death of dress-down-Friday the reason unemployment hit the much-feared three million  Possibly, although the rise in part-time working is more likely.

4  Clean air.  One of the great unintended consequences of the recession has been a victory for the greens.  We stopped buying new cars, drove fewer miles in our existing ones and hopped onto our bikes.  And if a factory slows down production, it belches out fewer fumes and sends fewer lorries around the country.  Government statistics suggest particle pollution fell by 14% in towns, while there are now an extra one million people regularly cycling.  It's hardly an environmental utopia, but it's a start.

5 Grow your own.  Sales of veg seeds went up, as we ripped out flower beds in favour of edible crops.  Organic food sales fell sharply, proving that much of its success was down to a middle-class fad.  But buying and eating local produce and growing your own rocketed.  Beekeeping became the rage, while some started to keep chickens in town.  
The real legacy is the cachet now attached to making your own sandwiches, as the boom in lunch box sales testifies.  Bringing in home-cured bresaola on a home-baked slice of rye bread is the ultimate badge of honour.  (and they taste better than bought sandwiches anyway!)

6  Bad teeth. Dental hygiene was dealt a double-dip blow by the credit crunch.  Not only did consumers gorge themselves on sweets and chocolate as a cheap palliative for their woes, but they tried to save money by cutting back on trips to the dentist, fearful they would be landed with an unpayable bill at the end.  This resulted in dentists having to deal with more emergency procedures.  And more expensive orthodontistry has almost disappeared.

7  Farewell to bogofs.  Saving money didn't so much become a way of life as part of the fabric of the nation.  Vacant shops were filled with pound shops or funny-sounding supermarkets selling cut-rice German ham.  The success of Aldi, Lidl and poundshops changed supermarkets fundamentally.  Value ranges because huge business, even in Waitrose.
Wasteful buy-one-get-one-free offers (bogofs) fell out of favour. Instead, in came what is called round-pound pricing (£2, rather than £1.99), as people on a budget wanted to be able to calculate the cost mentally by the time they got to the till.  (difficult to understand why people can't see that £1.99 is more or less the same as £2.00!  And I never did trust that the second one was actually free, it seemed that the first one was just an inflated price)

8  Dessert trolley blues.  Those who still ate out did so on a budget. Hence the confetti flurry of discount vouchers  in every pizza place.  Fine diners found ways of trimming their bills. Puddings were the biggest victims and the wheels of the sweet trolley rusted to a halt.  Apparently 96 million fewer puddings were consumed on restaurant premises last year.  (how did they work out that one?!)

9 And now for the commercial break ...  Under huge pressure from the broadcasters, who were struggling to attract revenue, Ofcom, the regulator, allowed channels to up the ads.  In dramas, the total length of advert could rise from seven minutes an hour to 12 minutes.  (more like the US or Australia).

10  A dog's life.  Pets got a bit of a raw deal.  Many of us found that the easiest way to cut costs was to let the cat out of the flap, and never let it in again, with the numbers of dogs and cats abandoned increasing by 65% since 2007.  Even retired racehorses were being sold for just a few pounds by owners unwilling to pay for their upkeep.

11 Wardrobe change.  We cut our coats to suit our cloth, with pyjama sales increasing because we spent more evenings at home on the sofa - a trend that also helped boost the racy lingerie business and the far less sexy slanket (snuggie or snuglet) and onsie industry  (How to make your own slanket: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/6839893/Slankets-how-to-make-your-own-in-three-easy-to-follow-steps.html or to buy one: http://www.theslanket.com/customer-service)

12  Pop goes the bubble bath.  Shoppers were buying more shower gel than bubble bath, as people cut back on fripperies.  The astronomical rise in heating and hot water costs also played a part: more people chose to scrub themselves clean under the shower. (or if, like me, you're definitely into baths, then find someone with whom to share)

13  Summer Holiday.  We were persuaded that two weeks in damp Great Yarmouth was more glamorous than St Tropez (!?) (although it can be if the weather's kind)  But the real change was the death of the last-minute flight abroad.  Families wanted the certainty of a good time if they were spending money on a break.

14  Goodbye Mr Chips.  Strangely, private education has survived. But like other luxury goods, it has kept its head above water because of the influx of Russian and Chinese money into this country.  Numbers of British pupils have fallen, and nearly 40 schools have closed in the last three years.

15 Red lights turned off.  Rising rents, falling demand from cash-strapped consumers and higher competition from discount operators and the internet - the high street has had a torrid few years.  And, in the oldest professional of all, prostitutes have been forced to but their prices by up to 50%.  Sex sells, but not as well during a recession.


From The Daily Telegraph, Friday 9 August 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment