What was life like in Britain the last time things were so dire?

Margaret Thatcher was PM, unemployment at its worst since the 1930s, the Falklands War broke out and ‘Come on Eileen’ was the year’s biggest-selling single.

Inflation in the UK has soared to 9 per cent in the 12 months to April, having stood at 7 per cent in March, marking its fastest surge in 40 years as the cost of living crisis bites.


Soaring energy bills coupled with higher fuel and food costs exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine are behind the steep climb, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).


Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England (BoE), said he and his fellow interest rate setters at the institution felt “helpless” in the face of price growth generated overseas and imported into the UK.


Dame Claire Moriatry of Citizens Advice meanwhile paints a bleak picture of “people washing in their kitchen sinks because they can’t afford a hot shower; parents skipping meals to feed their kids; disabled people who can’t afford to use vital equipment”.


The development will inevitably place renewed pressure on chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce further help for British households, although he has so far insisted that price rises are a global concern from which the Treasury cannot entirely shield British consumers.


Mr Sunak insisted the government is “providing significant support where we can” and stands “ready to take further action” but Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has insisted that overstretched families cannot wait, criticising Boris Johnson’s administration for opposing a one-off windfall tax on energy companies to relieve the pressure on the public.


The growing crisis is reportedly already prompting citizens to tighten their belts, spend less and take fewer car journeys due to the rising cost of petrol, a blow to the UK’s economic recovery from the toll taken by two years of Covid-19 lockdowns.


According to the ONS, estimated inflation is now at its highest level since March 1982, when it stood at 9.1 per cent, but the BoE has already warned that it could ultimately surpass 10 per cent this year when Ofgem’s energy price cap rises again in October, as it is widely expected to do.


The Britain of 40 years ago was, of course, the age of Margaret Thatcher, appropriate given that Wednesday’s dire economic forecast should follow immediately on the footsteps of her statue being unveiled in her native Grantham, Lincolnshire, and almost immediately pelted with eggs.


According to research by Lloyds TSB Private Banking, a pint of beer cost 73p in 1982, a loaf of white sliced bread was yours for 37p and a pint of milk was just 20p while the average price for a detached house was a mere £45,211. A different world.


Unemployment meanwhile hit 3 million for the first time since the 1930s, meaning one person in eight was out of work, the second-highest in Europe with only Belgium in a worse position.


When Thatcher attempted to defend the dire state of the economy in the House of Commons, insisting she saw “encouraging signs”, she was viciously heckled and told by Labour leader Michael Foot that there were “32 people chasing every vacancy”.


Unlike today, politics in Westminster was a genuine three-way fight for supremacy in 1982, with the Conservatives and Labour battling against the Alliance, a recently-formed pact between the Liberal and Social Democratic Party, for dominance.


This was also the era of shops staying closed on Sundays by law and taking a half-day on Wednesdays .


More dramatically, 1982 was also the year of the Falklands War, a brutal Provisional IRA bombing campaign, Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a dead bat live on stage, the raising of The Mary Rose from the Solent after more than four centuries beneath the waves, the creation of Channel 4 and the births of Prince William and the future Duchess of Cambridge.


Source: The Independent