independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

A divided nation, with some hurting more than others

Today's Millward Brown poll reveals how the country fears a lot more suffering in Budget 2013, writes Paul Moran

With the final touches being added to Budget 2013 this weekend, the latest Millward Brown poll shines a light on the mood of the nation, and identifies which groups in society feel most vulnerable in advance of Wednesday's announcement.

We all feel we are suffering, but it would seem that some are suffering more than others. To a certain extent, we are a nation somewhat divided. However, this is not driven by social class or region, but by the generational divide.

Overall, the majority are genuinely fearful for the effects of Wednesday's Budget; 56 per cent feel it could push them over the edge in terms of being unable to meet their financial commitments. The cohort who arguably benefited most from the boom, only to be saddled with the devastating effect of its aftermath – those aged 35-44 – are most fearful (64 per cent of them feel they are on the precipice).

They are more likely to have bought their homes during the bubble, and likewise are most likely to have young children now. Indeed, among those with children, two in three are fearful of their financial commitments. With inevitable changes to child allowance to come, and the introduction of the property tax, these groups are in line for a double hit.

Unfortunately for them, child allowance in particular is seen as an easier touch – it is not as big a political hot potato as the alternatives. This view has been echoed in previous research – when the benefit is pitted against other possible welfare cutbacks, legislators and the electorate see it as low hanging fruit.

Contrast this against older groups – more than four in 10 (43 per cent) aged 65+ are fearful of Wednesday, but a near identical proportion (41 per cent) are not. Images of the 2008 medical card demonstrations still send a shiver of fear up the spines of many politicians. Coupled with a well-organised lobbying network, this is one group who will have fire in their belly come any suggestion of cutbacks. In addition, many of the current manifestations of our crash, such as crippling mortgages and negative equity, have passed them by. They have lived through downturns before (albeit not one as dramatic), and are entitled to claim they have paid their dues.

Unfortunately, this is of small comfort to those currently in the crosshairs.

With Christmas fast approaching, 37 per cent are determined to ensure that the Budget will not spoil their party – hardly a ringing endorsement when a key element missing from our fractured economy is consumer confidence.

A total of 39 per cent feel the Budget will temper their enjoyment, and again they are more likely to be younger; parents; or from a lower socio-economic background. Close on half of these feel pessimistic.

We were assured that pre-Budget leaks and kite-flying would be curtailed. This has not happened, and is truly counterproductive – a shroud of uncertainty and fear looms over large segments of our society.

Looking further ahead, there is a grim perception that we are in this for the long haul – nearly half (48 per cent) feel we have at least four more tough budgets to go. If this were to pass, we will have endured close on a decade of pain by that stage. A sobering thought. A further one in four feel we have three more harsh instalments to bear.

Full Poll DETAILS, page 29

Leaving aside the specifics of this Budget, there are some mixed messages in terms of the outlook for 2013. More than half (57 per cent) fear a reduction in their standard of living. A starker metric however, is that 56 per cent fear being unable to pay the bills.

A total of 29 per cent worry about having a job, with 10 per cent fearful of losing their homes. While these statistics are harrowing, they actually represent a sharp uplift in sentiment compared with when we last asked this question in May. It may be that we know on the micro level we are not out of the woods but, on a broader macro level, things are stabilising.

So who is to blame for the seemingly glacially slow recovery? More than four in 10 (43 per cent) feel that current government policy is holding us back. We are quite forgiving of the stance of the troika – just one in six (16 per cent) directly blame their bailout terms for our current muddle, and just half again (eight per cent) feel the stance of Angela Merkel on our debt forgiveness is impeding our revival.

We might not like the impact of these external influences, but we are less likely to shift the blame onto their shoulders. We prefer to look at targets closer to home.

While this Budget will be unpalatable, it will, of course, be passed. However, these results show that the unrelenting waves of cutbacks are taking their toll on many, and for them, the fear is that this next wave may be the one that pulls them under.

Paul Moran is an associate director at Millward Brown.

Sunday Independent

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