The British are entering the new year in a gloomier frame of mind about their finances and job security than the citizens of most other industrialised countries, an international poll has discovered.
Just one in six people predict they will be better off by the summer, while three-quarters said they were worrying more about the threat of unemployment or being able to afford a big purchase such as a house or car.
The survey of 24 countries found that the British are among the most pessimistic in the world when they were asked about the prospects. The findings will heighten ministers' fears that the downbeat national mood could make it harder for the country to recover from the economic downturn.
Only 17 per cent told Ipsos MORI that they expected their financial position to improve in the next six months – half the number in Australia (35 per cent) and the United States (34 per cent) and behind Germany (29 per cent). Britons displayed a fraction of the optimism of the citizens of the rapidly-growing economies of Brazil (91 per cent), India (69 per cent) and China (51 per cent). The only countries with lower scores were Belgium (16 per cent), Italy (13 per cent), Japan (11 per cent) and France (8 per cent).
The rising dole queues – and wide predictions of growing unemployment in 2011 – are reflected in the 73 per cent of Britons who said they felt less secure in their jobs than six months ago. Just 27 per cent said they expected their job security to improve – 17th out of 24 in the international table.
Seventy-five per cent said they felt less comfortable when making a major purchase than they would have done six months ago. Some 45 per cent described their financial position as weak, with only 26 per cent believing it to be strong.
The British also expressed deep disquiet about the health of the property market. Less than one-third (32 per cent) said they thought the next month would be a good time to buy a house – 20th in the league table and the lowest proportion of any European nation.
By a margin of more than two to one (70 to 30 per cent) Britons said they feared the country was heading in the wrong direction. Asked what issues worried them most, 45 per cent said unemployment and jobs, 40 per cent said immigration and 30 per cent said crime and violence.
Immigration was named as a cause for concern by more Britons than the citizens of any other country, with only Australia (33 per cent) coming close and more than double the level of concern in Germany (19 per cent) and France (11 per cent).
Ashish Prashar, a spokesman for Ipsos MORI, said: "There are signs that suggest the recovery isn't going to be smooth sailing. Economic pessimism is still high and very few people agree that it is a good time to buy property. It will be vital to convince people to spend money and to get the housing market moving to ensure that there isn't a double-dip recession.
"Also, at times when unemployment is high and people are worried about being able to find jobs, it is understandable that immigration is a concern. With almost 600,000 immigrants entering the UK each year it is going to be a bigger issue here than in many other countries."
Percentage who feel their personal finances will be stronger in six months
South Africa 55%
Saudi Arabia 48%
South Korea 28%