Half empty? Half full? New report reveals Britain's discontent

More of us than ever have bleak expectations, but Kunal Dutta still finds some reasons to be cheerful
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain is intrinsically pessimistic, more divided and sceptical about the future than at any stage in history, according to a report released this week. The annual survey of public attitudes by the advertising agency McCann London paints a bleak picture of the direction in which the country is heading.

The findings, published exclusively in The IoS today, reveal growing anger at inequality. Living costs are frustrating Britons, the report says, with 58 per cent of respondents citing it as the source of their problems, compared with 46 per cent in 2009. In total, 78 per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed were "angrier nowadays" than ever, with almost half believing their needs were "ignored by the Government".

And an ICM poll in today's News of the World says two-thirds of voters believe that the UK economy is getting worse, with half the people questioned thinking David Cameron and George Osborne are doing a bad job of running the economy. Over half (53 per cent) said they felt poorer than two years ago.

The McCann report says: "In the boom years we didn't necessarily care whether corporations were paying their fair share of taxes, or whether MPs were being creative with expenses ... As long as we were moving in the right direction, growing inequality didn't seem to matter."

Its vision of the future is also particularly bleak, with just 26 per cent of people agreeing with the statement that "when today's 25-year-olds reach 50, they will be better off than today's 50-year-olds are".

The annual Moody Britain report, to be launched on Tuesday, coincides with research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that shows sizeable increases in the amount people need to earn to achieve an acceptable standard of living. "For working families with children in particular, it's getting much harder to do so," said the foundation's Chris Goulden.

Dean Ashraf, head of consumer trends at McCann London and author of the Moody Britain report, said: "It is painful to see with the strikes now: these are essentially public sector workers who have been sold a dream, that they'll be able to retire at a certain age or live a way of life enjoyed by their predecessors, that is looking increasingly unlikely – if not impossible."

However, not all the survey's respondents have given up hope for a brighter future. Here, some of them anticipate what the good life could be like in 2020.

Case studies

Sam Raper, School bursar

Sam, 45, lives with her husband and three children in south Manchester

"I would like to see the Government take tax away from fuel and see an increase in electric cars. The education system has to be addressed. At the moment, university fees look set to skyrocket and the future is dependent on a good education. By 2020 the country has to be heading somewhere and not find itself stuck. I would like to see either the Conservatives or Liberals leading the country, with Britain made a financial priority over Europe. The whole benefits culture has to change. This at the moment is adding to a distinct sense of being stuck in a transition phase."

Cara Dodd, Shop supervisor

Cara, 26, is a shop supervisor from Portsmouth who lives with her partner

"I want to see jobs for the people who want them, more safety and security, and a sense of community cohesion. It would be nice to be able to walk down the street and talk to people, without feeling like you're going to get attacked or assaulted. The elderly need to be better looked after, especially as many of them gave their lives to helping us. As I grow up I'd like to feel that in the future I would have a house as well as a stable job that gives me the right amount of hours to work hard, as well as enjoy other things in life like a family."

Malcolm Kirby, retired

Malcolm, 70, is the chairman of the National Voice for Coastal Communities in Norfolk

"I want to see a society that invests in its young people and ensures everyone has an equal opportunity. I am highly sceptical of the Big Society idea, which seems like the Government just abdicating all responsibility. It risks propelling us into a broken society in a couple of years' time. We saw this happen with the financial crash, when the Government gave the banking community too much autonomy. I would like to see us look back and say times were tough, but we have come through it, learned from it and are more socially, ethically and community minded than we were before."

Abdellah Hmamouche, student

Abdellah, 20, is studying international relations and politics at the University of East Anglia. He lives in west London

"I want to see more people financially secure and the levels of inequality reduced. My father came to this country from Morocco and built a life here, yet in some ways I feel I will have it harder because jobs are harder to come by. There is a growing underclass that I would like to see addressed before Britain becomes like America, where the class divides are too massive to truly address. The very rich should be taxed at a much higher rate for a fair standard of living. I want to look back at this time as a moment in Britain's history, not a permanent situation. After a few years, things should look more promising."

Margaret Morrell, retired optometrist

Margaret, 65, lives in Devon with her husband

"I want to see people more satisfied and content with their lot in life. We always learned to live within our means. This is a beautiful country and people who want to live here should realise that. People on welfare need to see that there are jobs out there, while those striking need to see that they are lucky to be in employment. If you get made redundant, be more resilient and deal with it. I was made redundant many times and we simply picked ourselves up and moved on. Children are stuck indoors far too much. I'd like to see them encouraged to be outside. The Government should introduce initiatives to encourage children to play outside."

Are you a pessimist or an optimist? From inner joy to murderous rage

Anthony Seldon, historian, half full

"The discovery of inner joy which is utterly non-dependent on life circumstance, jobs, success or relationships is what makes me hugely optimistic for the future. There is something within every human being that is joyful and totally harmonious."

Nicky Phillips, artist, half empty

"You are less likely to be disappointed if you are pessimistic. I think the older I get the more cynical I become. Certain little issues such as the future of the future of the euro or the motivation of politicians has left me unsure."

Denis Healey, former chancellor , half full

"I would say I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the future – I don't think that is the attitude to take. I am a pragmatist. But I'd describe myself as taking the glass is half full kind of attitude."

Michael Winner, film director, half empty

"There are far too many people here, and most of them are the wrong ones. I'd be a lot more optimistic if half the population was killed off - it seems we let in every child trafficker and drug dealer, and no longer have the power to get them out."