WITH the shrinking of the UK economy, planned increase in public borrowing and expected higher taxation and public spending cuts it is claimed that Britain is entering a decade of austerity. Could we see a return to more sustainable lifestyles?
On 22 April the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced in his annual budget that the economy would shrink by 3.5 per cent this year. He also outlined plans to increase public borrowing of £175 billion with borrowing levels to be £173bn, £140bn, £118bn and £97bn in years after.
The Chancellor has been criticised for being over optimistic about future growth forecasts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned the Labour government must close a £90 billion hole in order to balance the budget. The independent think-tank claimed that this would cost every UK family £2,840 per year by 2017-18 in higher taxes or public spending cuts. Critics argue that this will see the dawn of a new age of austerity on the scale of that experienced after the Second World War.
The baby boomers born were the first generation of the consumer society born in Post-War Britain. Since the 1950s we have whole-heartedly embraced consumer values with an emphasis for immediate gratification and satisfying individual needs. We have now arrived at a point where we are living beyond our means not only in the financial sense but also in the ecological sense. The demands of our increasingly globalised, industrialised, high consuming society have overloaded the planet’s natural ability to absorb, replenish and restore. We are now drawing on our ecological capital rather than living off nature’s interest. For sometime we have been experiencing an ecological credit crunch but this has not received much media or public attention.
A new period of austerity could provide the opportunity to rediscover values that were lost sometime ago. While being on a budget may not be fun it does make us thing about how we spend our money and whether purchases are really necessary.
Many people over the age of 65 lived through the War and grew up in years of austerity. They were forced to appreciate the value of food and goods due to having experienced rationing. This instilled a “mend and make do” attitude where waste was avoided. As a consequence many people aged over 65 tend to be prompt bill payers, debt averse and dislike waste.
Since the War we have managed to export our manufacturing base to the Far East to take advantage of low cost labour and consumer products. It is now cheaper to throw away and buy new rather than repair. Gone are the days when things were made to last or where we would have an item for many years with an occasional service or repair. We now consume to be fashionable – when a new trend comes along the old is ditched for the new.
The biggest incentive to encouraging a move to greener lifestyles is cost. There are many things we can all do so save pounds and the planet. Less consumption and profligate use of resources does not have to be austere. It means appreciating the value of not consuming, making do and reusing and recycling and buying to last.
The next decade could be the time we finally begin to live within both our ecological and financial means.
© Gary Haq 2009