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We’ve Never Had It So Good 2004-05-15

Posted by clype in Money, Scotland, Statistics.
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In 1980, Tracy Patterson was a ten-year-old girl growing up on a Glasgow council estate. Her family had little money for luxuries and holidays tended to be taken in places like Scarborough.

Today the 35-year-old works for a firm offering independent financial advice — and life for her has improved so dramatically that she feels guilty about her relative affluence. The holidays in Scarborough have been replaced by twice-yearly trips to places like Italy and Slovenia, and she has swapped Hillpark in Glasgow for a flat in trendy Leith.

‘When I grew up, things were much simpler’, Ms.Patterson said.

‘We didn’t have much money. I grew up in a council house and there were much less material possessions’, Ms.Patterson said.

‘Now I think we are really well off compared to what it was like when I was a child’.

And she is not alone. According to new research, it appears most people living in Scotland have ‘never had it so good’, to quote Mr.Harold Macmillan’s famous celebration of an earlier economic boom.

Average household incomes rose by more than a fifth to 367.00 GBP/week between 1979 and 1997 and electrical goods such as washing machines, refrigerators, freezers, telephones, vacuum cleaners and colour TVs are now basic items owned by 95 per cent of the population. Scotland is no longer a nation of manual workers.

In 1981, half of all employed Scots laboured with their hands, but this has dropped to about 40 per cent while managerial and professional jobs have doubled.

Edinburgh University sociology professors Mr.David McCrone, Mr.Lindsay Patterson and Mr.Frank Bechhofer conclude in a new book, “Living in Scotland“, that the nation is ‘a more affluent, comfortable and pleasant place’ than it was in 1980.

We are healthier, live longer and have a more varied, enjoyable lifestyle, with access to cheap travel and a wide range of entertainment.

But the professors said ‘truly rosy spectacles’ would be needed not to see that a significant minority had largely missed out on the rise in living standards, leaving Scotland a ‘seriously divided’ country.

A fifth of Scots still live in poverty, which the authors said was ‘more scandalous because of the surrounding affluence’. The First Minister Mr.Jack Mcconnell argued it often took a ‘conscious decision’ to look back at the past for people to realise how much life had improved. He said:

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‘The truth is that for most people most things are getting much better, as this study shows. From the way that our economy has improved to the impact that new technology and increased access to first-class education is making on our daily lives, Scotland is a much improved country’.

The First Minister accepted there were areas needing attention — the gap between rich and poor, postcode lottery of healthcare, ‘scourge of sectarianism’ and the part of the ‘Scottish psyche that discourages risk taking’.

Politicians should beware of thinking that comfortable lifestyles necessarily meant electoral victory, according to Mr.John Curtis, politics professor at Strathclyde University and a consultant to the Scottish Centre for Social Research. He said:

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‘An increasing proportion of people are saying they are living comfortably on their present income, but man does not live by bread alone. There is more to life than how much money you have in your pocket. If you are concerned about the morality of foreign affairs, you may feel you have reason to moan.

‘And affluence is to some degree a relative thing. It’s about keeping up with the Joneses’.

Mr.Jim Mather, the SNP’s spokesman on enterprise and the economy, said things could be much better.

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‘As civilisation marches forward, living standards do improve. The thing that worries me is the gap between Scottish living standards and standards elsewhere. If people believe this is as good as it can be, they should go to Dublin, Oslo or Lisbon’.

Mr.Alan Hogarth, of CBI Scotland, said:

‘No-one could argue that we haven’t seen a dramatic improvement in Scottish life over the last 24 years. But we still have room for improvement.

‘We have to try and get over the cultural problem of still denigrating success and an anti-private sector, anti-profit culture is still apparent across Scottish life’.

As she sits in her kitchen, equipped with a huge variety of blenders, juicers and other gadgets, Ms.Tracy Patterson reflects on her good fortune. She and her partner of 15 years can plan two foreign holidays a year and buy pretty much what they like.

‘I am aware of trying not to accumulate too much stuff’, she says.

‘How well off you feel is relative and sometimes I compare myself to someone in Africa who’s just got nothing and I feel we are really, really well off.

‘I don’t plan on having a family. I sort of think I’ve reached a standard of living that I like and you hear all the horror stories about how much it costs.

‘I try to take a look at my own life and say “I really don’t need these things” but you get caught up in it. It’s hard not to. My mum, who worked and brought up a family, thinks there’s nothing wrong with that — because she knows how hard it was for her’.

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