From the TUC

King’s speech: Ferocious squeeze on take-home pay accounted for weak growth

25 Jan 2012, by in Labour market

It has not been widely reported, but in last night’s keynote speech Mervyn King argued that the economy has been held back by a combination of high inflation and weak wages growth. Take note, ye pay-rise naysayers!

King’s argument was that inflation had been kept high by the rise in VAT, higher import prices and soaring energy costs.

“The consequence has been a ferocious squeeze in the purchasing power of take home pay. That led to a fall in consumer spending which accounted for much of the weakness in growth in 2011”

Mervyn King points out that consumer demand fell by a full 5% in 2008. He might have chosen to add that it has continued to fall more slowly and that it is not expected to return to stronger growth until at least 2013.

So there we have it, just as the TUC suspected, we have become stuck in recession because we have not had big enough pay rises.

This is a serious problem, because at the level of the individual firm it might superficially seem quite logical to pay as little as possible in hard times, but the net result will be that the economy gets stuck in a vicious circle of low demand. The Government has no appetite for coordinated action to increase wages – and doubly so in the public sector – but that is exactly what is needed now if we are going to kick start the economy.

This is not just pie in the sky, as the money is alreday there to use in most of the bigger companies. It is a little known fact that the UK’s corporate sector is sitting on an ever greater pile of financial reserves rather than investing and spending. Once we get a firm recovery going, that money could be unlocked and flow into the economy quite quickly – but this can’t be done while real pay is falling.

Turning back finally to last night’s “state of the economy” speech, there are quite a few matters where Mr King’s analysis of what is needed differed from my view, but I will gladly give him the last word on a point where he is absolutely correct:

“The legitimacy of a market economy will inevitably be challenged if rewards go disproportionately to a small elite”.

4 Responses to King’s speech: Ferocious squeeze on take-home pay accounted for weak growth

  1. Gareth
    Jan 26th 2012, 1:00 am

    Ye gods. Paging Duncan Weldon.

    “we have become stuck in recession because we have not had big enough pay rises.”

    Welcome to the 1970’s, have a nice decade. Pay rises for all, and nobody gets richer.

  2. Paul Sellers

    Paul Sellers
    Jan 26th 2012, 10:13 am

    Well Gareth, that was my slightly lighthearted way of making a very serious point, and I stick solidly to the argument that low wage growth is a strong factor in leaving us stuck in, poor confidence and low economic growth. I am still in concordance with Mr King.

    Why is the current decade unlike the 1970s:

    – wages now lagging inflation, not driving it
    – decline of wages as share of GNP now constrains consumer demand
    – large firms were not sitting on immense piles of cash in the 1970s

    Surely the much bigger risk is that without better pay growth we are more likely to return to a 1930s-style economy, stuck at the bottom of the cycle.

  3. MH
    Jan 26th 2012, 12:14 pm

    I believe the concensus is now shifting and seeing our inability to get out of the hole that the Financial sector has put us in due to a lack of demand rather than a lack of supply. Those that wish to hang onto the supply interpretation do so out of irrational attachments rather than looking at the evidence.

    It has even got to the point where some are crossing their fingers that the recovery will be export driven. The chance of this becomes increasingly unlikely when we see a fall in demand from places like China.

    No it is not the seventies, it could get worst than that, unless this government does something to increase demand and support an already dwindling manufactoring sector.

  4. Paul Sellers

    Paul Sellers
    Jan 26th 2012, 5:54 pm

    And to coincide with the World Economic Forum at Davos, a survey published today found that:

    “50 per cent of European traders and investors believe inequality poses a threat to the economy.”

    …..even those most known for their scepticism are getting the message!

    Read more: