Pessimism about the economy among the population as a whole has receded in recent months, even as the UK was falling back into recession, according to this month’s Public Opinion Monitor.

The survey suggests that people were braced for a period of extended economic stagnation in which the economy would stabilise but their personal financial and economic prospects, though not necessarily worsening, would fail to rebound to pre-recession levels.

At the end of last year, 58% thought that the economy would worsen over the next year; this figure fell to 41% in April. Although the number thinking there had been improvement in the economy doubled, only 11% took this optimistic view in April while 48% thought it was much the same.

Those thinking that the economy will be worse in a year’s time fell in the same period from 37% to 28%. Here, optimism has risen from 10% to 17% since December, though 55% expected little change.

The Public Opinion Monitor is published at a difficult time for the government. This week’s announcement of a double-dip recession is likely to make it more difficult to sustain consumer confidence in the months ahead, while the survey showed that, even before the announcement, Labour had opened a 10-point gap over the Conservatives (42% vs 32%).

People’s expectations for their own households remain relatively gloomy, In April, most (62%) said they expect their income to stay the same over the next year with 20% expecting a fall and only 18% expecting an increase. This mood has changed little over the past year.
Just over a third of employed people (37%) said their job felt less secure in April 2012, compared with 36% back in August 2011.

It is clear that households continue to feel the pinch of recession in their personal finances with half of those questioned in April 2012 (51%) saying they are finding it harder now to meet their monthly household budgets than they did a year ago.

This is a slight improvement on the situation last autumn when, in September, 58% said they were struggling financially, but it hardly reflects a surge in confidence. This is further reflected in the fact that the number saying they are finding it easier to cope has remained unchanged throughout the last year at roughly one in twenty.

Tighter budgets and worries about future economic prospects are inevitably having an impact on people’s willingness to spend with a majority of people saying that, even if they received a substantial increase in their personal income, they would prefer to reduce their debt burden (40%) or boost their savings (35%), rather than spending on things for themselves and family members to enjoy (25%).
Again, these figures have been steady throughout 2011 and 2012, indicating that whilst most people do not feel their personal situation is getting worse, they are not anticipating any improvement in the near future either.

The Kantar Public Policy Priority Index shows that unemployment remains the top concern among the public in the UK. Jobs took over from inflation in as the top priority in the autumn, as inflationary pressures eased, and the issue had an index score of 74% in April, against 67% for inflation and 62% for health, which overtook crime in the autumn as memories of the summer riots faded and the debate about the future of the NHS gathered pace.

*For more detailed queries about the Public Opinion Monitor or for TNS-BMRB’s polling history, please contact head of social and political attitudes research Nick Howat, on 0207 656 5742 or Nick.Howat@tns-bmrb.co.uk*

*For media briefings, please contact TNS marketing executive Suzannah Archibald, on 0207 656 5048 or Suzannah.Archibald@tnsglobal.com*

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