Who were the biggest losers of 2012?
Filed under: News
The British Retail Consortium reported that shop vacancies had reached a new high with more than one in ten town centre shops empty (11.3%). In some parts of the country as many as one in five (20%) shops stayed boarded up.
No Olympic legacyThe Olympics provided a brief respite for Britain retailers with August reporting a small rise in footfall – the number of people actually going in to shops. But overall, and in most parts of the country, footfall fell for the rest of the year.
Non-food sales suffered most as people cut back on what the BRC called "big ticket" purchases, such as furniture and other items for the home. But food sales declined towards the end of each month as families ran out of money as they approached pay day.
The BRC said even the wealthy were cutting back "The number of higher income shoppers visiting discount supermarket chains is reported to have increased significantly over last year," it said.
Boom and bustMany big name retailers went bust. The Centre for Retail Research said 2012 was the worst year since 2008 for companies going bust, with 52 companies closing 3,907 stores, affecting 47,790 employees in the 11 months to the end of November. In the whole of 2011, just 31 firms went bust, closing 2,469 stores, sacking 24,025 employees.
It got so bad the government established a review of town centres under the ebullient Mary Portas, which lead to retailers and developers coming together to form the happily titled Distressed Town Centre Task Force. The British Council of Shopping Centres pointed out that no new centres had opened in 2012, which had not happened for 30 years.
Online sales did not make up for the high streets' decline. Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC said of November's disappointing figures: "It looks as if consumers were holding off buying because of lack of spare cash and so online sales conversions may have fallen."
Blame the ChancellorThe finger of blame was pointed at another of the year's losers - Chancellor George Osborne. He had a really bad year. He was forced to admit in his Autumn Statement that he would miss his debt reduction target by £22bn and the country would not start paying off debt in 2015 as he had originally promised.
The markets took Osborne's bad news so badly that credit rating agencies threatened to remove Britain's gold standard triple A credit rating. The result of that, at its most basic, would be that the cost of government borrowing would rise, but the worst thing about it is the humiliation that a once great nation should be reduced to such a state.
It didn't prompt a change of strategy as the Chancellor forced further austerity measures on the country. He attacked everyone and everything, from the pension arrangements of the wealthy to the benefits of the poor and those with children.
Low-income familiesThe Trades Union Congress blamed Osborne for hitting low-income families hardest this year. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "2012 has been a tough year people across the UK. While the labour market has proven remarkably resilient given the dire state of the economy, those in work have really struggled.
"Wages have fallen in real terms throughout 2012 and look set to continue dropping next year too. Poor families have faced the toughest squeeze of all, with vital benefits reduced and public services scaled back. They were also singled out for further pain in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. By the end of this parliament some working families will be £3,000 a year worse off as a result of cuts to tax credits and child benefit.
"The Chancellor is making the tightest squeeze in living standards for nearly a century even longer and deeper." The government's own fuel Poverty Action Group warned late this year that 300,000 extra homes would fall into fuel poverty as a result of rising electricity and gas prices and stagnating or falling incomes.
Repossessions and evictionsHomelessness charity Shelter said 200,000 households in England had been threatened with the prospect of losing their home during 2012. The worst place for threatened evictions or repossessions was Barking & Dagenham to the east of London, but all the top ten repossession hotspots were in London.
Even those in work with what appeared to be a decent future ahead of them had something to worry about this year. The National Association of Pension Funds said: "The autumn statement put people in final salary pensions schemes under even more pressure."
And having targeted child benefit, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned that pensioners who had saved all their working lives for a decent retirement might be penalised for their commonsense by having their benefits removed, such as the winter fuel allowance.
Tax avoidersSometimes, however, it's enjoyable to watch people have a bad year. 2012 was a bad year for tax avoiders. High profile tax avoidance schemes used by celebrities and sports stars came under intense media scrutiny. Comedian Jimmy Car was just one of many high profile victims of the campaign. He was forced to apologise and withdrew from the K2 tax avoidance scheme.
Complaints about inaction from the HMRC prompted a crackdown on some of the loopholes. A scheme involving the tax relief on films – said by the FT to be used by the likes of Wayne Rooney – was thwarted, though it is still subject to appeal.
And MPs called in the big corporate tax avoiders Amazon, Google and Starbucks in for a grilling, exposing how they use internal accounting tricks to avoid paying UK tax. Starbucks – also subject to occupations and protests by UK Uncut activists – announced it would cease its abacus trickery and start coughing up to the taxman.
But tax campaigner Richard Murphy of Tax Research said the government was not doing enough. "The public are the big losers. Tax avoidance in my opinion costs £25bn a year - split between corporate and personal tax avoidance. We're losing because the government is not tackling this," he said.
Northern RockThe taxpayer lost out too due to a cock-up at nationalised bank Northern Rock. A blunder in the wording of loan statements meant 152,000 customers stood to receive an average windfall of £1,775. That may be good news for them but the error will cost the rest of us £270m as it will be the taxpayer who forks out.
There were specific groups hard-hit by various changes in 2012 – the old, the young, women drivers and many others, but in one way or another it was a bad year for all of us.