Election 2015

Election 2015: Can shoppers sense a recovery?

Sale bargains sign

The economy has been a central issue in the general election campaign, with all the parties keen to persuade voters they would be the best guardians of the UK's future prosperity. So, are ordinary people feeling the uptick of economic growth in their pockets?

It's almost impossible to hear about the coming election without also hearing the word "economy".

The Conservatives say mortgages, schools, hospitals and pensions depend on a "strong economy" and are constantly talking about their "long-term economic plan".

Labour says there is a "cost of living crisis" and it wants to "build an economy that works for working people".

The Liberal Democrats' manifesto highlights the desire for a "stronger economy", the SNP wants to "grow Scotland's economy", UKIP calls the economy a "major issue of the day", and the Greens want a "one-planet economy".

Policy guide: Economy

This issue includes the wider economy and deficit reduction but also employment and the role of business.

Q&A: Background to the election economy debate

The economy has consistently been ranked among the most important issues facing British voters, since the financial crash of 2007-08, according to Ipsos Mori.

While Labour has sometimes led as the party that voters think has the best policies on the economy, more Britons tend to think the Conservatives are better when it comes to money matters, according to the polling company.

In 2014, UK economic growth was among the fastest of all major world economies - although the rate of growth halved in the three months to the end of March.

The UK deficit in 2013-14 was £98.5bn, according to February's figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - less than the figure for 2012-13, which was £119.7bn.

And the number of people in work is at an all-time high, according to the ONS.

But a survey of 18,330 people by Populus in October 2014 suggests not everyone is feeling it.

Three out of 10 voters (29%) said they thought there was no economic recovery in their area, while 57% believed they were watching the revival from the sidelines - feeling there "probably" was one but they had "not felt this personally".

That compared with 14% of voters who thought there was an economic recovery in their area and they had felt it personally.

It is a feeling that resonates with shoppers at Bury Market, in Greater Manchester.

Image caption Wares that recovery? Market goers Joy Cadwallader and Michelle Dann haven't had a pay rise 'in years'
Image caption Retail workers Alison Clegg and Emma Harrison think talk of an economic recovery is "garbage"

"Trade is busy, but wages aren't good. It's probably got worse to be fair, as we've got a two-year-old to look after now. There isn't enough left at the end of the day," say a couple in their 20s, who don't want to be named.

Sisters Joy Cadwallader, 53, from Bury, and Michelle Dann, 59, from Rochdale, who both work in the care sector, agree. "No way have I had a pay rise, I've been on the same pay for five years. There's not enough money in the system," says Michelle.

Retail workers Alison Clegg, 40, and mother-of-two Emma Harrison, 29, can't relate to talk of an economic recovery either. "It's is a load of garbage. Is that in London? It's certainly not in Manchester or Ashton. They are cutting benefits on the wrong people. My boyfriend is disabled, it's not his fault," says Emma.

The maze of stalls sells everything from fish, meat and flowers to birdseed, but stall-holder Michael Yaffe says not everyone is buying.

"I find business OK if I work hard at it. But most of my customers are retired - they either have money or have never had money, in my opinion," he says.

A passing shopper in her 40s, who doesn't make a purchase, agrees. "There's nobody better off in the country than pensioners - it's the grey pound," she says.

Nurse Mike O'Falherty thinks there's a divide between the "haves and have-nots".

"The rich always have money, they don't know what going on as they've never had a job," he says.

The idea seems to be fairly widespread. A Populus poll in November 2014 suggested 71% of people thought the recovery was working for those who were comfortably off, but 70% thought the recovery was not working for people who were struggling.

However, at Wallwork Heat Treatment, a stone's throw away from Bury Market, the chief executive says business is faring well.

Image caption Merry Bury: Wallwork Heat Treatment chief Peter Carpenter says business has picked up

"It is very good, to be honest. Obviously we had a hard time in the recession in 2009 and we had to make redundancies. But since 2011, business has picked up and we've increased every year," says Peter Carpenter, who has been at the company for 30 years and took the helm two years ago.

He says the group, which has been established for 56 years and employs 273 people, is a good barometer of the UK manufacturing industry.

"I would say the manufacturing industry in the UK is definitely moving up. We have 4,000 customers, and we're at the mercy of the rest of manufacturing - if manufacturing is doing well, we're doing well," he says.

That's not to say the company didn't have to weather a pretty big storm. It cut about 70 jobs during the recession, and for 10 months it turned over less than the month before, according to Mr Carpenter.

But he says his employees have been able to share in the upside too, receiving pay increases every year since 2011.

Image caption William Bentley, 20, is finding it hard to get the graduate job he wants
Image caption Nurse Mike O'Falherty doesn't think politicians know what it's like to have a real job

Back at Bury Market, not everyone has been so lucky.

William Bentley, 20, says the prospects for young people are "looking pretty bad". He trained as a graphic designer at university, but has had to take a job in food production.

And Mr O'Falherty doesn't think politicians get it. "In the 1970s, there were 40 miners in the Labour Party, I don't think we have shop workers as MPs, they are mostly career politicians," he says.

Bury North has become known as a bellwether constituency.

It went Tory when the Conservatives formed a coalition in 2010. It had a Labour MP when the party was in power from 1997 to 2010. Before that, like the government, it was Conservative.

Despite the rise in smaller parties, the constituency remains a traditional Conservative-Labour marginal.

So whichever party can make people feel they have more money in their pockets might just be key to who wins at the ballot box.

The candidates for the constituency are:

  • Richard Baum (Liberal Democrat)
  • James Frith (Labour)
  • Ian Henderson (UKIP)
  • David Nuttall (Conservative)
  • John Southworth (Green)