Miserable Britain ‘back in recession’

By Alex Stevenson

Reports that Britain is already in another recession will not help as the UK faces its most miserable day of the year.

Both the Centre for Economic and Business Research and Ernst and Young's Item Club's latest forecasts predicted the UK economy would show negative growth in both the last quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012.

They predicted that a sustained economic recovery would not get underway until the summer.

Chancellor George Osborne, currently negotiating with the Chinese government, said the Office for Budget Responsibility had not predicted a recession, but acknowledged that the eurozone crisis represented a major threat to Britain's GDP.

"I'm confident the British government is doing everything it can with a very difficult inheritance, facing a very difficult international situation to get Britain through this, to weather the storm," he told the Today programme.

Reassurances that the recession would not prove a repeat of the 2009 dip are unlikely to cheer up out-of-work Brits, however, on what is widely hyped as the most depressing day of the year.

Thinktank IPPR North has unveiled that in many areas of the country jobs are so scarce that there are up to 20 applicants for each vacancy.

It identified areas as far apart as Lewisham in London, North Ayrshire in Scotland, Blaenau Gwent and Hartlepool as having 16 jobseekers per vacancy. Clackmannanshire has 19 jobseekers per vacancy, and West Dunbartonshire 20 jobseekers per vacancy.

Director Ed Cox called on the government to extend its youth contract to ensure a jobs guarantee for those unemployed for more than a year.

"More needs to be done to help the areas of the UK where people are really struggling to find work," he said.

"The government should guarantee a job for everyone who has been unemployed for more than a year paid at the minimum wage, targeted at the worst affected areas first but then rolled out everywhere."

The third Monday in January is known as 'Blue Monday' because it supposedly represents the most misery-generating combination of post-festive debt, poor weather and other mood-dampening variables.

The free-market Institute for Economic Affairs thinktank has used this year's Blue Monday to publish a report writing off the idea of the government pursuing the happiness of its citizens altogether.

It argued that ministers would be better off concentrating on economic growth rather than seeking to measure and explicitly promote happiness.

The report rubbished claims that more equal societies are happier and argued that more intrusive and bigger government tends to lead to a loss of wellbeing.

It even pointed to research suggesting that overall happiness levels could decrease by as much as six per cent as a result of increasing government spending by one-third.

"Governments have shown how hopeless and inefficient they are at attempting to run the basics of our economy. They seem to find it nearly impossible, for example, to resist racking up colossal debts," IEA director-general Mark Littlewood said.

"To trust them with something far more intimate, complicated and confusing as happiness would be inviting disaster."