Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

As the fireworks exploded to signal the beginning of 2012, the news was filled with two conflicting messages. On one hand, there was talk of this year being an exciting one – with the Olympics coming to London and the Queen’s Diamond jubilee. On the other, a bleak and gloomy message was being communicated about the temperamental European economy and how this would be felt in Britain.

The first week of the New Year got underway with fears of economic uncertainty being reinforced thanks to several retail chains – including Blacks and Past Times – going into administration, while others were announcing profit warnings. With all of this going on we decided to see how all of this was impacting the man in the street and public optimism.

In December, YouGov published findings that showed consumer confidence levels were at their lowest since March, with the writer Stephan Shakespeare pointing to a Household Economic Activity Tracker that painted a “rather bleak picture.” The latest TGI survey tells us 48.4 per cent of UK adults would describe themselves as ‘optimistic’, which is virtually unchanged from the same time last year. However, what is surprising about recent TGI data is that within the youngest age bracket (15-24) there has been a rise of 3.8 per cent in the proportion who now describe themselves as optimistic.

This rise seems to show that increases in tuition fees and rising levels of unemployment aren’t getting young people down as much as had been thought. The age group for whom optimism has taken the biggest dent is the 45-54 demographic, with the numbers dropping below the 45 per cent mark. There’s also the argument that people who don’t have to work are feeling more positive about the future, with over-65s consistently the most optimistic in the surveys.

Government cuts, tax rises and public sector strikes have dominated all the headlines in recent months, but 2012 will likely see more talk of cuts and further belt tightening. The latest TGI survey data shows 16.8 per cent of UK adults describe themselves as finding it difficult on their present income – a number which stood at 13.3 per cent on the same survey 12 months ago. There have also been decreases in the number of people who say they are comfortable on their present income and also those who are coping, with women more to agree with this than men. A year ago, the TGI showed that the older you got, the more chance there was that you’d be happier with your present income, but this year there were dips being seen amongst both the 25-34 and 45-54 age group.

While this data shows how cuts, the recession and the retail outlook is affecting the UK population and how they label themselves, it will be interesting see how this changes in 2012.

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