Austerity is biting beyond those living on £53 a week
A view from Jeremy Lee

Austerity is biting beyond those living on £53 a week

The political class spectacularly failed to cover itself in glory last week after trying to turn the appalling deaths of six children at the hands of the vile Mick Philpott into something that should be viewed along the narrow divide of party lines.

Nonetheless, there was some brief respite to be had amid the tragedy in the mischievous public response to Iain Duncan Smith’s unwise assertion that he could survive on a weekly handout of £53 – considerably less than the ministerial state endowment that the public purse currently provides him.

While the reaction of mock outrage from some of the newspapers – many of which fail to even pay expenses, let alone anything resembling the minimum wage, to interns desperate for gainful employment – to IDS’s empty claim revealed typically mixed messages, the hypocrisy of the second and fourth estates was sadly not all that surprising.

Elsewhere in the real world beyond the favoured advertising watering holes and chichi restaurants of Soho, thousands of unemployed people formed orderly, early morning queues in the mean streets of Fareham, Hampshire – not an area traditionally associated with deprivation – in the hope of securing a chat with a representative from the likes of Tesco and Harvester. Their ultimate goal, of course, was to impress these modern-day dream-makers and land a job at a new retail development in the town.

Austerity was voted 'word of the year' in 2010 and shows no sign of being usurped by something more uplifting

Austerity – a word that, until recent times, only featured in the postwar pages of modern British history books alongside pictures of mangles and utility-mark clothing – was voted "word of the year" in 2010 and shows no sign of being usurped by something more uplifting. In fact, without the cheery optimism of an impending coronation or a rerun of the first commercial flight of the Comet that also graced the pages of the same history books, many feel that austerity has still to show the full extent of its bite. Those individuals expected to toil away in low-paid jobs (or unpaid internships at newspapers), or survive on £53 a week, aren’t going away any time soon.

A top executive creative director I met last week pondered whether there’s a place for advertising – a business whose main purpose is to build brands – in an era when a sizeable proportion of the population no longer cares about the beautifully executed distillation of a brand proposition, but is rather more concerned about price point. Given the rise in the number of ads for high-interest payday loan companies and budget supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi that have replaced more aspirational brands, maybe there is. Sadly, he wasn’t so sure.