Part of me feels in good company as we as a family are not alone in feeling the financial freeze that has beset the world economy’s since the summer of 2008.
Recent figures suggest that 1 in 4 people or 10.2 million households are feeling financially squeezed. I notice that the term “squeezometer” is being used in a rather theatrical way in order to describe this insidious facet of the financial calamity. In the cult of celeb worship we are running the risk of elevating the pain that others feel to the dizzy heights of a reality TV show. “First family to financial meltdown is the winner”. Going by the prizes offered by the normal round of TV Quiz and reality programmes you are very likely to be out of pocket.
It’s interesting that each new set of historic circumstances breed a whole new genre of euphemistic phrases designed in part to placate those affected and make light of the pain. For example the term “Economic Zoombie” is being touted to describe those company’s or individuals that are just able to service their loans. They may be in negative equity or have an interest only mortgage with insufficient resources to manoeuvre out of the debt trap. Given that these company’s or individuals are not contributing to the economic outlook in a positive manner some have suggested that they be allowed to fail. It’s a poor indictment on a supposed inclusive society when economists start to talk in such terms. There are consequences to demonizing the so called undeserving poor or economically destitute. These social consequences will reverberate more widely within society and be part of the social bill that we will all have a part in paying.
There are winners and losers in each phase of the economic cycle and at present discount stores and pay-day loan company’s are certainly on the up. Discount stores in a very positive sense are weaning us all off the branding aspect of merchandising. One of the reasons they are able to offer their wares at up to 40% cheaper, often at the same quality, is that the marketing message is dispensed with altogether. That has to be a good thing as it removes the mind control techniques practiced by the marketing industry.
The pay-day loan company’s offer, by legal means, excessively high interest rate loans to those that are ill-equipped to understand the implications of such a loan should they default. Often the choice is between the “frying pan or the fire” and those taking out such loans have little economic choice. How in this day and age, in a civilised country, are such company’s allowed to charge as much as 4000% interest on loans. This really does beggar belief. It also doesn’t make economic sense to so trap unaware or economically vulnerable individuals in the mire of personal debt that often follows. The end result often ends up with the state, you and I, picking up the bill in higher social provisioning costs.
With the traumatising spectre of inflation the Government are quite rightly aiming to keep economic control. But when I hear that heating bills have gone up by 63% over the past five years and that inflation is made up largely of heat, fuel and food increases I can’t but help feel that the world is against the economically less gifted. We blame those unfortunate enough to be at the bottom of the economic pile for their own maliase. But then life isn’t as equal as is often suggested as not everyone has the same access to education or economic opportunity. Try not to pull the economic ladder up after you and blame those who find themselves in an economic deficit. By no fault of your own that could be you one day and consideration of the plight of others will I’m confident have a positive impacted on your own future.
Economic consumers, with the positive benefits of the Internet, are regrouping in the form of Community Energy Cooperatives. Brighton Energy Cooperative seems to be one of the more organised in its challenge to provide cheaper renewable energy to its participants. The masses are closing ranks and becoming organised. Denmark, Sweden and Germany have been ahead of the game in their objective of improving cooperative consumer energy buying power. The economy of scale that they offer provides a degree of economic strength such that they can negotiate lower energy tariffs. This movement really does act as a counter balance to the corporate power that seeks to maximise a return on investment sometimes to the detriment of social cohesion and well being. You can’t blame anyone for trying to turn a profit, however there are limits and where socially ethical practices are not in clear use Government should step in with legislation.
But don’t worry because we have the Big Society idea which is rather stating the obvious that if a society is to remain alive it must protect the vulnerable. We have been here in the past and I’m reminded that Aneurin Bevan was instrumental in his avowed purpose of eradicating the Five Great Evils (want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness) and was able to introduce the National Health Services.
This could be a point of inflection where society pulls back some power from the economic giants and is invigorated with compassion for others.