What's the British standard of living like in 2008?

I know that the UK went through some tough times in the 60’s and 70’s, but all I really know about the everyday lifestyle issues in the UK are the glimpses I’ve gotten into British homes via British TV shows over the years.

What’s life in Britain really like? Do most families own a house, and have 2 cars etc. etc. I know London is a dynamo, but is the average British person relatively well off these days?

I’m British, lived in the USA since 2005.

And I think the basic answer to your question is that the standard of living in the UK is more or less the same as the USA. There, just as here, of course, it depends on how wealthy one is.

Things are, in general, a bit more expensive there. There are exceptions, of course, and also folks tend to get slightly higher salaries for the same jobs, so that evens out.

Houses are often smaller than in the USA, and since the country is a lot more urbanised, many more people live in city apartments or condos (the word “condo” is not used in the UK).

My parents run two cars, and while they’re certainly not broke, they aren’t outrageously rich either. So I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if a British person told me their household had two cars - it’s reasonably common.

Welfare payments there are more generous and cover more people, so there are far fewer people in crushing poverty than in the USA. Of course, taxes are higher as well.

London is different - living there is ridiculously expensive. The six years I spent in the city, I live in dilapidated apartments just so I could pay the rent. Many people who work there live in suburban “dormitory towns”, and so spend a huge amount of money on their train commute. Lots of London employers offer interest-free season ticket loans to staff - my commute from Rochester to the City (London’s financial district) ran about US$5000 per year. The expense of living in London can be a real problem for modestly paid workers, like teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters.

So the basic answer is that, if you were to move to the UK tomorrow and have a reasonable job, you wouldn’t likely notice much change in your material standard of living. However, you would have to get used to a smaller house and denser population in most areas.

To give a specific answer to one of the items you listed, more than half of households with two or more adults do have two or more cars. From http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1770, about %30 of households had two or more cars in 2006, while from Home - Office for National Statistics the 2002 figures show about 55% of households having two or more adults (and that figure has probably fallen since then). Assuming that very few single-person households have more than one car, that’s more than half.

London and the southeast is better off than the rest of the country. I read somewhere that if it were a separate country it would have the highest per capita GDP in Europe.

There is no doubt that the British standard of living has risen dramatically over the last 10-20 years - if you dig around on the website Usram linked to you’ll find stacks of information on housing and ownership of consumer items. According this article in *The Times * living standards in the UK and now higher than those in the States :dubious: Not sure I believe that - too much averaging for it to be meaningful.

Houses are expensive here, particularly in the southeast. The national average house price is now just over £218,000 ($430,000). In the southeast it’s £263,000, and in Greater London as a whole the average price is nearly £360,000 ($710,000).

The average household income (after tax) was about £27,000 per year in 2006, depending on which stats you believe.

My impression is that owning a house is more difficult in the UK than in the US, in that it tneds to be more expensive relative to income, but I could be wrong - judge for yourself from those figures.

I’m dubious too. Those claims seem to be based on the absolute value of the pound vs. the dollar rather than PPP-based per capita GDP, which places US per capita GDP well ahead of ours. And it’s difficult to take into account the effect on living standards of the markedly different levels of taxation and public spending.

Note that the article says that the spending power of Americans is still somewhat greater than that of Britons. Although Britons now make somewhat more money on average, they pay quite a bit more than Americans for nearly everything. The really noticeable difference between the U.S. and the U.K. is that the average wages of Britons is somewhat more compressed than in the U.S. That is, there is somewhat less poverty in the U.K. and somewhat less wealth. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable.

In any case, the idea that the U.K. went through tough times is not just out of date but wildly out of date. The tough times were the late 1940’s through maybe the early 1970’s. Since then the U.S. and the U.K. have been roughly the same in terms of living standards. The U.S. has been consistently ahead in terms of spending power, but the U.K. has nearly caught up now.

Do you have the same issues with consumer electronics that we have? We have an older house with issues – not enough individual circuits in many rooms, or multiple rooms sharing a single fuse so we have to be careful [especially in the kitchen, we cant use the microwave and any other appliance at the same time as every plug except the one for the refrigerator and cooker are one single circuit. If we try to make coffee and run the microwave, or the dishwasher it pops the fuse.]

Modern life is very electricity oriented…

aruvqan, did you post to the wrong thread?

That does happen in some older British houses, but it’s getting less and less common. Most old houses (say, 1960s or earlier) have been fully rewired.

I think the extent of the problem in the 70’s was wildly exaggerated by the media outside Britain. My parents were severely embarrassed in around 1974 to receive a food parcel from my sister who had emigrated to Australia in 1968. Apparently the Australian media were playing up British economic difficulties to the point where she thought we were starving.

My house was built in the 1960s and hasn’t been rewired, and yes, it is a problem. I have put in some new sockets in the bedrooms (each bedroom had only one or, at most, two single sockets), but we have the same problem with the kitchen - accidentally switching on the dishwasher at the same time as the washing machine results in a tripped circuit breaker.

Also, the lighting circuit is not earthed, which is not a problem in itself but means we can’t install certain types of lighting - anything with a metal housing is out, as are metal switchplates, I’m told.

Yes, I don’t remember anybody in the 1970s ever talking about consumer items that people could afford to buy in the USA or Japan or wherever but not in the UK. I think the only big differences people were aware of were the big cars in America, which was more of a taste thing, and multi channel cable TV, which didn’t spread until the late 80s. We did not see ordinary Americans as being richer than us.

I remember the media coverage here during the ‘Winter of Discontent’. Was that in 1974? The UK was portrayed as falling apart at the seams, with massive waves of strike action; uncollected garbage rotting in the streets; power cuts; unburied dead bodies; shortened working weeks etc.

Having lived in both the US and the UK, I’d say that, while we have the same stuff available to buy, the frequency of consumerism is somewhat repressed in the UK due to price. Most Brits count pennies a lot more, whether buying the latest AV equipment or laptop, a car, or doing grocery shopping. Three reasons: higher accommodation cost, greater proportion of our income dedicated to fuel and private transport, and everything we buy is somewhat more expensive.

The amount of living space we deem necessary is much smaller than the US, too, because of land costs due to our size.

There are other things that (in my observation) in the US that are seen as fundamental that are still considered luxuries here: tumble dryers (though this is dying out) and dishwashers, for example, and hardly anyone has air conditioning - though this is mostly climate-related.

Also, eating out is less common here - once a week would, in my experience, be considered quite fancy.

But in general, it’s pretty similar.

My parents had to rewire their new (to them) 1960s built house when they bought it in 2002. My house in Rochester, Kent was built in 1890, and it had been partly rewired. I kept looking to add sockets, lights and so on, and finding ancient rubber-insulated cables. And yes, the breakers kept popping.

Fixtures that are double-insulated should be OK on a 5amp lighting circuit, and I certainly have used metal switchplates, though again, I suspect they were also double-insulated. It’s also possible to add a 3amp fuse to a 30amp ring main, and set up lights that way. 30amp rings are always earthed. I did something like that with a garden shed, with the approval of our electrician neighbour. (I was about 14, any time I proposed meddling with the electrics, my folks made me tell him what I planned to do and make sure I wasn’t about to burn the house down :smiley: )

What I did was take a 30amp line from the garage, as a spur off a regular socket, fuse it down to 5amps and then add a regular lightswitch. It all worked fine when the house was sold 20 years later.

It was 1978-1979. Here’s some info:

I’m too young to remember much about it (born in 1972), but I think I would have recalled if my family and I had been starving. Not the best of times, all the same.

While Cunctator got the name wrong by using “Winter of Discontent”, he is indeed correct about there being issues in the winter of 1973-4. A miner’s strike led to a 3-day working week and frequent power cuts. I remember revising for my mock O levels by candlelight.

The miner’s strike led to the fall of the Edward Heath government and ultimately his loss of the leadership of the Conservative party, being replaced by Margaret Thatcher.

Thank you - I cannot remember 1973-74, and my knowledge of that period of history is not much better than “OK”. I do recall that there were two elections in 1974, February and October, ISTR. Labour won both, but unconvincingly, and this set up Callaghan’s disastrous fall in 1979. Well, it was disastrous for Callaghan and the Labour Party, I guess Thatcher wasn’t complaining.

Wasn’t there an oil crisis around that time also? That can’t have helped matters.

We had a tumble dryer in the 70s, and we weren’t rich.