‘Whose growth?’ will be the defining political question in 2014, says Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady in her new year message.
Her comments came as new polling commissioned by the union body shows that only one in 50 voters say they are already benefiting from the recovery – and only one in five say they expect to in the new year.
Frances O’Grady said: “The statistics show that Britain’s economic recovery is real. But that is not how it feels. This is because the government has failed to deliver a growth strategy based on rebalancing the economy through exports and investment. Instead growth is coming from rising house prices and people running down their savings. And while jobs growth is welcome, too many jobs are insecure and combine the three lows: low skill, low productivity and low pay.
“But while the recovery may be based on shaky ground, it radically changes the political landscape. Voters may have accepted spending cuts, falling real wages and unemployment as a consequence of the damage done by the crash. But they will expect to share in the economic recovery.
“Our new poll is therefore bad news for the government. Voters do not expect to benefit from the recovery next year, do not expect their wages to keep up with living costs and do not trust the government to spread the benefits of recovery fairly.
“The poll also reveals a major gulf between voters and the government about the future direction of policy. Above all they do not share the Chancellor’s ambition to permanently shrink the state. By more than two to one they want to see services restored when the economy grows, not permanently cut.
“Voters accepted austerity as unpleasant medicine. But now they are realising that what they thought were the unpleasant side effects are what the Chancellor sees as a cure. Recovery seems to mean food banks, zero hours and pay cuts for the many, tax cuts and pay growth for the few at the top.
“This is why 2014 will be a crucial year. It will be dominated by a single political question – whose growth? That reflects the big divide that is opening up about what future Britain should have.
“Do we want to go back to a business as usual version of the pre-crash economy, based on housing bubbles, an overmighty finance sector and increasing inequality as a growing proportion of the workforce fail to share in prosperity?
“Or do we want to build a new, genuinely rebalanced economy that through investment, growth and active government aims for a high-skill, high-pay, high-productivity economy that shares out prosperity to all? I know which side unions are on,” said Ms O'Grady.
Key findings from the TUC-commissioned YouGov poll include the fact that just two per cent of voters say they have already benefited from the economic recovery and only a further 18 per cent expect to benefit from the recovery during 2014.
A large majority expect the living standards crisis to continue in the new year. Only one in eight (13 per cent) of those in work expect their pay to at least keep up with the cost of living, the same proportion who report that their pay at least kept up with the cost of living during 2013.
Voters do not back plans for a permanently smaller state. More than half (56 per cent) agree with the statement “As the economy grows I want to see most or all of the services that have been cut restored” compared to three in ten (29 per cent) who back “As the economy grows I want to see most or all of the cuts retained.”
Only one in five voters (21 per cent) “expect the gains of an economic recovery to be fairly shared across the country and society”. More than twice as many (58 per cent) “expect the gains of an economic recovery to mainly go to the types of people and parts of the country who are already doing well.”
The total YouGov sample size was 1,666 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15 and16 December 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).