LONDON Oct 20 Unemployed father Del Kirby is
shopping for a gift in Argos, the British high street chain
whose profits are evaporating, and which this week begged the
government to put some money into his pocket.
"I don't really have a life. I don't go on holidays, I just
live off my savings. But they're going to run out," says the
former delivery driver inside the catalogue store in Whitechapel
Road, a down-at-heel high street in east London.
Kirby leaves without buying, hoping the toy pram he wants
for his three-year old daughter might be cheaper elsewhere.
In the poorer parts of London, the shopping scene now tells
a story already familiar in parts of the country further away
from the capital's banking and commerce wealth engines.
Money is tight, and it's getting tighter.
A few miles further east in Stratford, Britain is gearing up
for Olympic glitz and glamour next year. But people living in
the shadows of the multi-billion pound development see little to
cheer about as they face soaring prices and rising unemployment.
"I cannot afford to shop in there when I cannot even afford
to turn my heating on," said retired engineer John Smith,
pointing to the 1.45 billion pound ($2.3 billion) Westfield
development built as a gateway to the 2012 games and boasting
more than 300 shops and 70 restaurants.
Stratford is one of Britain's most deprived areas, once
known as "stinky Stratford" for its noxious industries and many
Local George Awnah has been pushed to cut back on basic
necessities. "You have to pay your bills and at the end of the
day you do not have any money left. Sometimes I go to school
without eating," the engineering student said.
"I eat only once, so you can see how difficult my situation
is," said Awnah, who works part-time at a centre for people with
disabilities. He said he is feeling the squeeze after his
working hours were cut.
Inflation in Britain hit a three-year high in September
driven by soaring food, gas and electricity bills, further
eroding living standards and piling more pressure on the
government to help struggling consumers.
Unemployment jumped to its highest level since 1994 in
September as private sector woes were compounded by the deep
cuts in state spending, which has seen thousands of civil
service roles vanish.
And for those still working, wages have generally failed to
keep up with price rises, according to the Office for National
Statistics, which said average weekly earnings were just 2.8
percent higher in August than a year earlier.
"I have been trying not to splash out on anything big and I
have been going drinking in student places," said 27-year old
accountant John outside department store John Lewis.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who said on Wednesday
inflation was too high, has come under increasing criticism for
a lack of economic growth and rising unemployment as his
government slashes spending to get runaway deficits under
"The government should create more jobs and David Cameron
should stop cutting this and that," said Peter Conway, a
57-year-old unemployed cleaner.
The government says it has taken strong measures to support
ordinary people through tough times, including freezing council
tax, cutting fuel duty and raising the minimum earnings
threshold at which citizens start paying income tax.
But it can do little about the jump in consumer price
inflation to 5.2 percent In September, driven by a whopping 22
percent increase in gas bills and a more than 6 percent rise in
Energy secretary Chris Huhne told households struggling to
pay rising fuel bills they should change supplier, check their
tariffs, or insulate their homes to try to save money,
dismissing calls to pressure the six main privately-owned energy
companies to use their growing profit to cut bills.
The economy barely expanded over the past year and Bank of
England Governor Mervyn King said on Tuesday a slowing world
economy threatened Britain's recovery.
After a promising start, 2011 has turned into an enormous
disappointment for major rich world economies, which have been
hobbled by a noxious combination of austerity, debt crises,
natural disaster and political impasse.
In Britain, the economy has barely escaped from its biggest
postwar downturn following a recession that the public largely
blames on bankers, and the chances of another recession are
The boss of Britain's No. 1 household goods retailer, Home
Retail which owns Argos, said cash-strapped shoppers
needed help from the government after first-half profit at his
company slumped 70 percent.
And even the powerful supermarkets -- usually so resilient
to belt-tightening -- are feeling the squeeze.
Top retailer Tesco posted one of its biggest-ever
falls in underlying sales earlier this month, while rival J
Sainsbury SBRY.L reported only modest growth.
"We used to shop at Sainsburys all the time but now we are
going to the basics range. We are cutting back and trading
down," said 37-year old software developer Theodore Hong who has
a six-month old son.
"We are just focusing on essentials now," said 32-year-old
Katy who had taken the day off for her first trip to Westfield.
"We cannot drink in champagne bars all the time anymore."