Tag: standard of living

UK unemployment fell by 4000 to 2.51 million in second quarter of this year. But this was too small to have any significant effect on the unemployment rate, which remained at 7.8%.

According to the forward guidance issued by the Bank of England, Bank Rate will stay at 0.5%, barring serious unforeseen circumstances, until unemployment reaches 7%. So will this be soon?

There are good reasons to suggest that the answer is no. Reasons include the following:

(a) Many firms may choose to employ their part-time workers for more hours, rather than taking on extra staff, if the economy picks up.

(b) The recovery is being fuelled by a rise in consumption, which, in turn, is being financed by people drawing on savings or borrowing more. The household saving ratio fell from 7.4% in 2012 Q1 to 4.2% in 2013 Q1. This trend will be unsustainable over the long run, especially as the Bank of England may see a rapid rise in borrowing/decline in saving as serious enough to raise interest rates before the unemployment rate has fallen to 7%.

(c) Despite the modest recovery, people’s average real incomes are well below the levels prior to the deep recession of 2008/9.

The articles consider the outlook for the economy and unemployment


UK unemployment holds steady at 7.8pc The Telegraph, Rebecca Clancy (14/8/13)
Unemployment rate is unlikely to fall sharply The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/13)
UK unemployment falls by 4,000 to 2.51 million BBC News (14/8/13)
UK wages decline among worst in Europe BBC News (11/8/13)
Squeezing the hourglass The Economist (10/8/13)
More people in work than ever before as unemployment falls Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (14/8/13)


Labour Market Statistics, August 2013 ONS
United Kingdom National Accounts, The Blue Book, 2013: Chapter 06: Households and Non-profit Institutions Serving Households (NPISH) ONS


  1. What factors determine the rate of unemployment?
  2. With reference to the ONS data in Labour Market Statistics, August 2013 above, what has happened to (a) the long-term unemployment rate; (b) the unemployment rate for 18–24 year olds?
  3. How would you define ‘living standards’?
  4. How is labour productivity relevant to the question of whether unemployment is likely to fall?
  5. How much have living standards fallen since 2008?
  6. Under what circumstances might the Bank of England raise interest rates before the rate of unemployment has fallen to 7%?
  7. Property prices are beginning to rise. Consider the effects of this and whether, on balance, a rise in property prices is beneficial.

An interesting article by Stephanie Flanders, the BBC’s Economics editor. She asks just how much (or how little) the pound in our pocket is now worth. With inflation above target, growth very slow and tax and benefit changes to cut the government deficit, everyone is feeling the squeeze. A key fact that Flanders identifies is that only those in the highest income quintile have actually lost from changes in the tax and benefits system: everyone else has (or will) gain. A very interesting read!

The shrinking pound in your pocket BBC News, Stephanomics (21/3/11)


  1. What are the main factors that have contributed to lower living standards this year? Explain how each factor works.
  2. What changes to taxes and benefits have occurred and what changes can we expect over the coming months and years? Who is likely (a) benefit and (b) lose from each change?
  3. Is it right that the richest families have been affected the most? Find an economic argument for both sides of the debate.
  4. Why have pensioners lost relatively more than other groups?

We’ve had numerous examples in recent years of the economic turmoil that natural disasters can have and unfortunately, we have another to add to the list: the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. As Japan tries to take stock of the damage and loss of life, the economic consequences of this disaster will also need considering. The previous Kobe earthquake cost the economy an estimated 2% of GDP, but this did hit a key industrial area. The economic consequences of the 2011 earthquake were originally not thought to be as bad, but the economy will undoubtedly suffer.

The Japanese economy, like the UK, shrank in the final quarter of 2010, but was expected to return to growth. The devastation of the earthquake and tsunami is now likely to delay this economic recovery. Many car companies are based in Japan and are expected to take some of the biggest hits. Nomura analysts suggested that annual operating profits of companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda would be dented by between 3% and 8%. You only have to look at some of the footage of the disaster to see why this is expected. Supply chains will undoubtedly be disrupted, many of whom are located in the exclusion zone and financial markets across the world have fallen, as the possibility of a nuclear disaster threatens. As Louise Armistead writes:

‘By lunchtime in Britain £32bn had been knocked off the value of the FTSE-100 dropped, which fell by more than 3pc in early trading but recovered later to close down 1.38pc at 5,695.28. Germany’s DAX plunged 3.19pc, recovering from a 4.8pc fall, and France’s CAC ended the day 3.9pc lower, while on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Index dropped 2pc shortly after opening.’

A key question will be whether Japanese reconstruction will push the economy out of its deflationary spiral or make it even worse.

GDP measures the value of output produced within the domestic economy, but it is by no means an accurate measure of a country’s standard of living. Whilst it will take into account new construction that will be required to rebuild the economy, it doesn’t take into account the initial destruction of it. As output and growth are expected to fall in the immediate aftermath, we may see a boost to growth, as reconstruction begins.

The problem of scarcity is becoming more and more apparent to many survivors, as they begin to run short of basic necessities, which has led to various rationing mechanisms being introduced. Despite the devastating conditions which survivors now find themselves in, when supplies are delivered, the efficiency of Japan is still very evident. As noted by BBC Radio 4 coverage, as soon as the supplies arrived, a line was in place to unload the van in minutes. Teams have been set up to help everyone get through the tragedy. Even in the most devastating of times, Japanese efficiency still shines through and undoubtedly this will be a massive aid in the huge re-construction projects that we will see over the coming months and even years. Analysts say that there will be short term pain, but that the investment in construction will boost the economy later in the year.

Japanese earthquake: Markets shed £1trillion amid nuclear fears Telegraph, Louise Armistead (16/3/11)
Panic over Japan triggers market turmoil Independent, Nikhil Kumar (16/3/11)
Japan quake: Economy ‘to rebound’ after short term pain BBC News (14/3/11)
Japan disaster: The cost of a crisis Guardian (16/3/11)
Global stock markets tumble in ‘perfect storm’ amid fears of nuclear disaster Mail Online, Hugo Duncan (16/3/11)
Japan’s earthquake will cause a global financial aftershock Guardian, Peter Hadfield (15/3/11)
Economists’ estimate of Japan quake impact Reuters (16/3/11)
Fukishima factor adds pressure to economic fallout from Japan’s crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott (15/3/11)


  1. What is the likely impact on Japan’s GDP?
  2. Why is the potential disruption to the supply chain important for a firm?
  3. How and why will this catastrophe affect global financial markets?
  4. What are some of the main problems of using GDP as a measurement for growth? Think about the impact on GDP of Japan’s destruction and their future re-construction.
  5. What types of production methods etc have Japan implemented to allow them to become so efficient in production?
  6. What are the arguments to suggest that this disaster might help the Japanese economy recover from its deflationary spiral? What are the arguments to suggest that it might make it worse?
  7. What are some other examples of natural disasters or human errors that have also had economic consequences?

GDP is quite a good measure of a nation’s production of goods and services, but it doesn’t include many other factors relating to the standard of living in an economy and for this reason, various other measures of living standards have been developed. However, there is also another issue with GDP and that relates to how best to measure a country’s economic performance. Should we use GDP per head or GDP growth? Population changes can significantly distort economic welfare and so do need to be taken into account. The article below from The Economist looks at these issues in depth and considers the best way to measure economic performance.

Grossly distorted picture The Economist (13/3/08)


1. Explain how GDP per head can fall while economic growth is rising.
2. Explain why the use of GDP per head as a measure of economic performance may lead to the definition of recession being flawed.
3. Assess the principal factors that result in economic growth and GDP per head rising together.

The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has asked a panel of economists, including Joseph Stiglitz, to come up with new measures of the quality of life as an alternative to the more traditional measures of GDP and production. He believes that traditional GDP measures understate the developments that have taken place in France.

Sarkozy seeks le feel-good factor Times Online (10/1/08)
France seeks new growth measure BBC News Online (8/1/08)
Beyond GDP – odd numbers Conde Nast Portfolio.com (9/1/08)


1. Explain why traditional GDP measures may not be a good measure of the standard of living.
2. Define what is meant by an Index of Sustainable Welfare.
3. Use the ‘Make your own ISEW‘ on the Friends of the Earth web site to assess the factors that make the most difference to the standard of living.