'This is the worst recession for over 100 years'

Ed Balls, the PM's closest ally, warns that downturn is ferocious and says impact will last 15 years

Britain is facing its worst financial crisis for more than a century, surpassing even the Great Depression of the 1930s, one of Gordon Brown's most senior ministers and confidants has admitted.

In an extraordinary admission about the severity of the economic downturn, Ed Balls even predicted that its effects would still be felt 15 years from now. The Schools Secretary's comments carry added weight because he is a former chief economic adviser to the Treasury and regarded as one of the Prime Ministers's closest allies.

Mr Balls said yesterday: "The reality is that this is becoming the most serious global recession for, I'm sure, over 100 years, as it will turn out."

He warned that events worldwide were moving at a "speed, pace and ferocity which none of us have seen before" and banks were losing cash on a "scale that nobody believed possible".

The minister stunned his audience at a Labour conference in Yorkshire by forecasting that times could be tougher than in the depression of the 1930s, when male unemployment in some cities reached 70 per cent. He also appeared to hint that the recession could play into the hands of the far right.

"The economy is going to define our politics in this region and in Britain in the next year, the next five years, the next 10 and even the next 15 years," Mr Balls said. "These are seismic events that are going to change the political landscape. I think this is a financial crisis more extreme and more serious than that of the 1930s, and we all remember how the politics of that era were shaped by the economy."

Philip Hammond, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said Mr Balls's predictions were "a staggering and very worrying admission from a cabinet minister and Gordon Brown's closest ally in the Treasury over the past 10 years". He added: "We are being told that not only are we facing the worst recession in 100 years, but that it will last for over a decade – far longer than Treasury forecasts predict."

The minister's comments came as the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, admitted the global economy was "seeing the most difficult economic conditions for generations". Writing in today's Independent, Mr Darling said his plans for shoring up Britain's finances included "measures to insure against extreme losses" as well as separating out impaired assets into a "parallel financial vehicle". Unemployment figures out tomorrow are expected to show the number of people out of work has passed two million. The Bank of England's quarterly inflation report, also released tomorrow, is expected to include a gloomy forecast for economic growth.

Yesterday, the Financial Services Authority warned that the recession "may be deeper and more prolonged than expected", adding that the global financial system had "suffered its greatest crisis in more than 70 years".

Speaking to Labour activists in Sheffield, Mr Balls conceded that the Government must share some of the blame because it had failed properly to control the banks. But he accused the Tories of blocking Labour's attempts to tighten financial rules.

He said: "People are quite right to say that financial regulation wasn't tough enough in Britain and around the world, that regulators misunderstood and did not see the nature of the risks of the dangers being run in our financial institutions – absolutely right."

The other great depressions

*Long Depression, 1873–96

Precipitated by the "panic of 1873" crisis on Wall Street and a severe outbreak of equine flu (Karl Benz's first automobile did not chug on to the scene until 1886), it was remarkable for its longevity as well as its global reach. In Britain, it was the rural south rather than the rich cities of the north that suffered. The UK ceased to be a nation that relied in any way on farming for its livelihood.

*Great Depression, 1930s

The "Hungry Thirties" were rough on many, at a time when welfare systems were rudimentary. The worst period was from the Wall Street Crash of 1929 to about 1932, but in places such as Jarrow, the unemployment rate hardly dipped below 50 per cent until the economy was mobilised in 1940. However, for many in the south and for the middle classes, the times were relatively prosperous.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May