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Could Britain face a new winter of discontent?

The UK could face a new winter of discontent as households count the cost of nine years of lost growth, the authors of a major new study into financial inclusion have warned.

The study highlights that:

  • a further widening of the gap between haves and have-nots
  • One in five Britons fear Brexit has heightened likelihood of unemployment
  • Households have little to show for almost 10 years of working and saving
  • Study authors warn of threat of new winter of discontent amid bleak outlook

The University of Birmingham’s wide-ranging Financial Inclusion Annual Monitoring Report 2017 reveals the extent to which millions are still struggling to make ends meet.

It concludes that many people who have tried their best to work and save since the global financial crisis have barely returned to the situation they were in nearly a decade ago.

And it says Brexit has only brought fresh uncertainty for households battling to manage their finances, with one in five Britons believing they are now more likely to lose their jobs.

Report co-author Professor Karen Rowlingson, of the University of Birmingham’s Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management, said: ‘Things have definitely got tougher.

‘Five years ago the situation was improving for some people, but in the past two or three years, as we can see from all sorts of data, things have clearly taken a turn for the worse.

‘Unless things change, the outlook for a lot of people appears very challenging – so much so that we could be about to enter a new winter of discontent.

‘Since the global financial crisis many people have done their best to work and save – yet today, after nine years of lost growth, they’re maybe only back where they started.

‘If the current state of play continues then the people in the ‘squeezed middle’ could be more squeezed than ever – and the people at the very bottom may well be crushed completely.’

The Financial Inclusion Annual Monitoring Report has come to be widely regarded as the foremost source of information and insight on financial inclusion in the UK.

The latest edition acknowledges several positive trends, including falls in unemployment, insolvencies and mortgage possessions and a rise in workplace-based pensions.

But it highlights many more negatives, including declining wages and savings rates, rising levels of personal debt and higher inflation placing greater strain on family budgets.

As a result of these and other factors, say the report’s authors, more households are facing a real struggle to make ends meet and cover one-off expenses.

The number of working families living in poverty has reached a record high, and there has been a dramatic increase in demand for emergency food and support.

The so-called ‘poverty premium’, which forces the poorest members of society to pay more for goods and services than those who are able to pay upfront, remains a key issue.

Professor Rowlingson, a Professor of Social Policy, also warned that the ‘universal credit’ system of benefit payments could prove ‘catastrophic’ to debt levels if implemented as planned.

She said: ‘We can clearly see from the latest available data that the people at the bottom are being pushed further down, and benefit changes are only likely to make that even worse.’

Report co-author Professor Stephen McKay, a Distinguished Professor of Social Research at the University of Lincoln, added: ‘The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing.

‘While those at the top have improved their position relative to others, we’re seeing a higher proportion of people struggling at the bottom and being squeezed in the middle.

‘People are generally more pessimistic about the future following the Brexit vote. This provides even more impetus to tackle the fundamental causes of financial exclusion.’

The authors call for the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman, to formulate a new strategy to improve levels of financial inclusion.

They argue that this should be in line with the recommendations of the recent House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion.

The report was launched today (21 Sep) in London at an event attended by senior figures including Baroness Tyler, the Select Committee’s chair.

Key facts and figures (all based on latest available data)

  • Rising inflation brought about by the Brexit vote’s impact on the pound has further reduced levels of real pay and placed more strain on household budgets.
  • 13.5 million people – 21% of the population – were living in poor, low-income households in 2013-2014. By 2016 the figure had risen to 22%. Of these, 55% of those in working families are now living in poverty – a record high.
  • In 2016-2017 the Trussell Trust provided three-day emergency food and support to more than 1.2 million people. In 2010-2011 the figure was just over 61,000.
  • More than 1.5 million adults in the UK personally lacked access to a bank account in 2015-2016.
  • In 2016 the savings ratio fell to a new low of 3.3%, compared to 11.5% in 2010.
  • In 2017 21% of people said they would need to borrow money to meet a one-off expense of £200. 11% said they would not be able to meet this expense.
  • The annual rate of growth in credit card lending is now at a higher level than at the peak of the financial crisis.
  • In 2015 39% of the British public said it was ‘somewhat of a burden’ to keep up with bills and credit commitments. A further 10% said it was a ‘heavy burden’.
  • Most people think the Brexit vote will have a negative impact on the economy, and one in five believe they are now more likely to lose their jobs.

For interview requests or for a copy of the report, please contact:
Tony Moran, Acting Head of Communications, University of Birmingham: +44 (0) 121 414 9041 or email the press office. For out of hours media enquiries, please call: +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Alternatively, contact:

Neil Robinson, Bulletin: +44 (0) 7855 259806 or email

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world’s top 100 academic institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Financial Inclusion Annual Monitoring Report 2017 is the fifth in a series of annual reports on financial inclusion from the University of Birmingham. A copy of the full report is available upon request.
  • The study was carried out by Professor Karen Rowlingson (Professor of Social Policy, University of Birmingham) and Professor Stephen McKay (Distinguished Professor of Social Research, University of Lincoln). It was funded by the Friends Provident Foundation (