How recession and recovery really affect your income

Woman with head in hands
Image caption Good times for the country can be bad times for some individuals

Here's a thing - the recession made the average household better off.

And the recovery has done the opposite - even before new tax rises and spending cuts come into play.

That is the message from a ground-breaking new series from the BBC which asks what the recession and subsequent recovery have truly done to your wealth.

BBC2's Money Watch asked what the recession - which, measured by a fall in gross domestic product, has been the worst in 60 years - had actually done to the average family's finances.

Defining wealth as "real disposable incomes" - comparing what people are taking home with the cost of living - Money Watch found examples of a minority who had borne the brunt of the recession - struggling financially as they dealt with pay cuts or redundancy.

But in terms of spending power, the average family was in fact £1080 a year better off.

Yet since the recovery began at the end of 2009, that effect has gone into reverse. And that applies even before spending cuts and new tax rises start to bite.

In Banbury, a manufacturing town in Oxfordshire where average wages and unemployment rates closely match the average for the country, Andy Rivers is in the unlucky minority.

He lost his job at a local manufacturer, ProDrive, and was forced to take what he could get - finding only menial jobs, such as working in a local bread factory.

'Old belt'

His income went from £500 a week to £300 a week.

"Financially, it's been a big drop in salary, roughly 40% of what I was on, so I've had to tighten the old belt a bit unfortunately.

Image caption Dave Earle: his Spit & Sawdust boxing gym is losing out as people cut back

"I have to think twice when I spend money, because if I buy something I might not be able to pay the bills," he told the programme.

That's also had knock-on effects for Dave Earle's Spit & Sawdust boxing gym, which Andy Rivers attends, but which is suffering as members cut back.

Dave Earle, a popular local figure and Conservative councillor who runs the gym, told the programme: "Gym is something people don't really need, it's something that's an extra. I thought that maybe the because my gym was the cheapest in town people would come in from the major gyms, but it didn't quite work that way."

But Stuart Kidman, a 28-year-old journalist who recently became a father, is among the majority who benefited from the lower cost of living. During the eye of the financial storm, in October 2008, it looked like his young family was heading for financial disaster.

"It was about October 2008," he explains. "I became a dad for the first time to my son William. About a month after William's birth I came home to find a message on my phone from my boss. He was very apologetic - 'it looks like your job could be under threat'.

"We'd just moved into our new house at that stage and obviously, with a new baby - things were looking pretty bleak."

'Brilliant day'

But, unexpectedly, Stuart quickly found a new job at a publication benefiting from one of the recessionary phenomena - stay-at-home holidays.

"I was absolutely elated when I heard I'd got the job there, it was a brilliant day. This job has significant pay rise for me, about 40% above what I was being paid before," he says.

Now earning £10,000 more than before, Stuart is contemplating buying a house.

While Stuart may have been lucky, he is not alone in becoming better off in the recession.

In 2009, average earnings were rising far faster than inflation - which hit negative territory. So the average family was earning more money - and each £1 they had to spend could buy them more goods.

Tough times

A combination of falling mortgage costs - especially tracker mortgages - and other costs like falling fuel prices - had brought the cost of living down towards the end of 2009, when the recovery began.

Since then, however, the opposite has happened.

Analysis by the think tank Capital Economics shows that in 2010 real incomes have been falling as earnings flatten out and the cost of living once again starts to rise.

In 2010, even before the recent budget changes, the average family was looking at a 1% drop in its spending power.

Looking into the future, the effect of the Budget changes is to knock a further 1% off the average family's net income.

Real-terms cuts to benefits and increases in VAT will change the picture again next year.

But while, on average, people had more money in their pockets, they were spending less. In spite of a 3.2% rise in real disposable incomes, household spending actually dropped by the same amount.

How to beat tough times: Money Watch, BBC2, 8pm, Tuesday July 6.

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