Decline in jobs reflects Britain's lean years: Britons are healthier and live longer, but there is little else to brighten the gloom in the latest 'Social Trends' survey. Charles Oulton reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BRITONS live in a slimmed-down country - fewer people in work, with less money to spend after paying the bills. More than a quarter of all households have only one occupant, and violence is increasing. This is the often gloomy picture painted by the latest annual Social Trends survey.

The 23rd survey, published by the Central Statistical Office today, shows falls in real disposable income for the first time in a decade, and household spending for the first time in 15 years, while social security benefit claimants have risen, in part as a result of 1.5 million fewer people in work.

The nation is becoming more health conscious, eating less fat and drinking less alcohol. This is just as well because there are fewer nurses to care for the ill as a result of changes in the NHS.

The effects of the recession are evident throughout the report, particularly in the property market where 75,000 properties were repossessed in 1991, five times the 1989 figure. Even football attendances are down. Violence, on the other hand, continues to increase.



THE top 10 per cent of taxpayers bear an increasingly larger proportion of income tax - 43 per cent of total income tax in 1992-93, compared with 35 per cent a decade ago. Direct taxes such as income tax took 20 per cent of household income in 1989, while indirect taxes, such as VAT, took 16 per cent - the same as in 1979.

At the other end of the tax scale, the bottom four-fifths of households had a smaller share of total income than in 1979, while the lowest income group remained on the same real income - for all other groups it increased. However, real disposable income fell between 1990 and 1991, the first time in a decade. About 2 per cent of that income was saved in 1991.

Although consumer credit has started to fall - marginally in 1990 and 1991 - the amount outstanding still doubled between 1981 and 1991, but spending between 1990 and 1991 fell by 2 per cent. The only increases related to fuel and power, televisions and videos. Fewer cars were bought in 1991 than in 1990, with spending down 18 per cent, and spending on food is lower than in 1976.

Gross domestic product - the measure of national income - fell in 1990-91, after growing in most years since the late 1940s.


MORE women die of breast cancer in the United Kingdom than elsewhere in Europe. However, fewer babies die at birth - 7.4 per 1,000 babies who survived birth in 1991. The rate of babies dying has fallen by a third since 1981. A record 149 people died from glue, aerosol or gas sniffing in 1990.

At the other end of the scale, life expectancy is increasing: a woman who was 40 can expect to live until 80. By 2000, male expectancy should reach 74.5.

There are signs that the British are becoming more health conscious - buying less beef but more poultry, less milk but more cheese, and fewer potatoes but more fruit, than 30 years ago. Despite longer opening hours introduced in 1988, slightly less alcohol was drunk between 1987 and 1989 - men drank 13.9 units compared with 14.5; women 4.2 (4.8).

The first year of the Government's health changes took its toll of nursing staff - down by 4,000, with 12,000 fewer ancillary staff. In contrast, there were 12,000 more administrators and clerks, and 3,000 more professional and technical staff. More patients are also being treated in fewer NHS beds.


A THIRD of all men born in England and Wales in the early 1950s had a conviction by the age of 31. One in 14 had a conviction for a violent crime. In the rest of society, the level of crime is still high - one crime was recorded for every 10 people in England and Wales in 1991 - but the survey suggests that police statistics may overstate increasing crime.

Crime recorded by the police over the past decade has doubled, although the British Crime Survey says crime has only increased by 50 per cent. Although agreeing with police over the rate of increase in burglaries and thefts, the survey suggests that vandalism and crimes of violence have grown at a slower rate than police statistics imply. Of crimes recorded by police, robberies were up by a quarter in England and Wales, and a third in Scotland, between 1990 and 1991. Recorded drug offences doubled between 1986 and 1991, but more serious offences, such as unlawful supply, have not increased as quickly. However, only half of all crimes are reported, and only 3 in 10 are recorded. Of these, fewer than 1 in 10 is cleared up.



WITH divorces up and marriages down, more than a quarter of households have only one occupant, twice as many as in 1961. Since 1971, marriages have declined by 20 per cent, while divorces have doubled, giving the United Kingdom one of the highest divorce rates in Europe. A quarter of all divorces involve a partner previously divorced.

However, enforced marriages are declining - only 4 per cent of all pregnancies are followed by marriage before the birth, while only a half of all conceptions end in a birth inside marriage, down from three-quarters in 1971.

The exception is provided by the Asian community. Nearly two- thirds of Bangladeshi and Pakistani households have a traditional make-up - husband, wife and children - compared with less than a quarter among the white population. Compared with the population of the UK as a whole, where nearly 20 per cent will be over 65 by 2021, ethnic minority groups have very young populations. More than 4 in 10 of those from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are under the age of 16 - twice the proportion of the white population. The population is growing fastest in Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.


WOMEN with full-time jobs have little time to relax. Compared to men in full-time work, women have more than 10 hours less leisure time and spend it looking after children, cleaning, cooking and shopping. When relaxing, 6 out of 10 Britons went to the cinema in 1991, compared with 4 out of 10 in 1984. But watching television and entertaining friends and relatives have remained the most popular leisure activities over the past 15 years. Watching live football is becoming unfashionable, with Division One gates falling for the first time since 1987-88. Four out of 10 Britons still do not take a holiday, a figure little changed in the past 20 years, but for those who do, holidays to Australia and New Zealand have trebled over the decade.


THE number of working women continues to grow - up by 1 million since the mid-1980s. However, the total number in work has fallen by 1.5 million in the past two years from a high of about 27 million. Worst affected are the young: almost one in five men and one in seven women under 19 was out of work in 1992 - 2 and 3 per cent higher respectively than 1991.

Those in work are quite often sick: 2.7 per cent of the working week in the United Kingdom is lost because of illness and injury, the worst rate in the European Community, except for the Netherlands with nearly 5 per cent. However, time lost through industrial action is down: 800,000 days were lost in 1991, the lowest since records began 100 years ago.


MORE THAN 75,000 properties were repossessed in 1991, five times the 1989 figure, while mortgagees more than 12 months in arrears reached an all-time high of 113,000 - an increase of 22,000 on the previous year. However, the number of owner-occupied dwellings doubled between 1961 and 1991, while the number of dwellings rented from housing associations, privately, or with a job and business, more than halved despite a growth in housing association stock. Among renters, only two-thirds are fairly or very satisfied with landlords, with the percentage very dissatisfied much higher for local authority, new town or housing association tenants than for private renters.

Social Trends 23; HMSO; pounds 26.


OTHER ITEMS of British life revealed in the survey include:

There were 790 oil spills in 1990 - 355 more than in 1986 - with 174 spills above 100 gallons, compared with 103 in 1986.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is still the most popular tourist attraction, having 6.5 million visitors in 1991. Madame Tussaud's Exhibition in London remains the most popular attraction that charges admission, boasting 2.2 million visitors.

The pill is still the most popular form of contraception - one in four women aged 16 to 49 use it.

The average traffic speed in central and inner London during the evening rush-hour is 12 miles per hour - two miles per hour slower than in the late Sixties.

Complaints about television advertising more than doubled - from 1,078 to 2,467 - between 1981 and 1991, and complaints about newspapers rose from 1,312 to 2,458.

Membership of the Automobile Association rose from 4.5 million in 1971 to 7.5 million in 1991.

Since 1953, three out of Britain's 41 species of dragonfly have become extinct; a further six are endangered, vulnerable or rare.

(Photograph omitted)