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The Independent Online
THIS paper recently carried a headline that tersely summed up the post-Thatcher economy. As an epilogue for the Eighties it could not be bettered. It read: 'People with mortgages are the new poor'.

When Margaret Thatcher and her minions - sorry: ministers - exhorted council tenants to join the brave new property-owning democracy, they made it clear that her government despised those feeble dependants of the nanny state who paid subsidised rents. It was also implied that home ownership was an easy way to prosperity. Buy your home, was the message; at a bargain price, was the inducement; add a carriage lamp and double glazing and watch its value soar] Hope springs eternal, especially when raised by a modern Britannia in electric blue suits. Thousands of council tenants fell for it.

Did a leading Tory politician ever say, 'If you are happy renting your council home, stay that way, for you may incur grave financial risks by buying it'? Not in any speech I know. How about, 'Interest rates and house prices can fluctuate wildly, so beware'? Not that either.

Between 1980 and 1990 more than 1.5 million council homes were sold to former tenants. Of all forms of housing, only the category of owner-occupiers with mortgages increased substantially, from 30 to 42 per cent.

However, a report just published by the Select Committee on Social Security chaired by Frank Field (Low Income Statistics: Low Income Families 1979-89, HMSO) reveals bitter figures that the Government did not want published. Of those families that fall below the poverty line despite being headed by a full-time worker (970,000, comprising at least 3 million people) two-thirds (620,000) had mortgages in 1989. In 1979, of 470,000 such working families below the poverty line only 200,000 had mortgages.

These statistics are worth lingering over, for they are a damning indictment of Thatcherism. During her decade - the years of the yuppie, neo-Classical architecture (Quinlan Terry triumphant), the logo (Wally Olins ditto), the Porsche (city bankers unanimous) and karaoke (as before, but in their cups) - the number of working families with incomes below basic unemployment benefit more than doubled. For a couple with two small children, this means existing on less than pounds 111 a week at today's rate. At the same time the number of such families paying mortgages tripled.

The year that saw the beginning of the great property market collapse was 1989, when the hopes of those new home owners began to tremble. By then, of course, the Thatcher dream had been succeeded by the Major reality, and she herself had turned into a Lady and become the owner-occupier of a pounds 1.5m property in London's Belgravia. In 1990, 43,000 mortgaged properties were repossessed, and another 36,000 in the first six months of 1991.

Take another set of beneficiaries from the Thatcher crusade: small businessmen. Remember those stirring visions of a brave new class of entrepreneurs springing like dragons' teeth from the wasteland of nationalised industries? Remember the promised opportunities for the self-employed, encouraged by income tax cuts and special concessions favouring new businesses? Again the trumpet call was answered.

Did the blonde-rinsed Boudicca who offered this vision and made it sound easy say, 'If you start your own business and if your timing is right and if you work 16 hours a day and pressgang your family to work alongside you, and if your product or service hits a popular nerve, and if the bank doesn't call in your business loan, you, too, may inherit my brave new world'? She did not.

So what became of them? Bankruptcies, insolvencies, and despair. Businesses gone bust, their assets sold for joke prices at shady auctions. By 1989, of the families headed by a full-time worker yet living below the poverty line, about half those workers were self-employed.

A new poor has been created, the relic - it is tempting to call them the dupes - of the Thatcher decade. And what do they vote? Why, Tory, of course. It's all they've got left.

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