Recent figures around the UK’s credit and debit card debt are startling indeed, with the number of transactions rising to its highest annual rate since 2008. This, paired with the fact that household income has barely changed over the last decade, has left financiers scared that the UK is on the verge of another recession.
Some politicians will blame the government for the current situation. They will say that years of ‘austerity’ forced the British public to buy things with money they didn’t have. Though it is true to an extent that cuts have pushed many towards credit, it is not the whole picture. Relaxed attitudes towards lending have to be blamed, too, particularly among the young.
The fact is that much of my generation sees loans, cards and overdrafts as an extension of income, rather than a last resort; a mindset that was mostly born at universities, and has vastly contributed to the nationwide trend. On the London circuit, far from being a survival mechanism, I see credit cards put towards booze, holidays and clothing, among other non-essentials. Don’t just take it from me; data yesterday showed that spending on cards in the retail sector grew by £500m in the second quarter.
It is no wonder that this sort of spending has grown. Most young people are technically poor, but live in a faux universe created by loan providers that allows them to circumnavigate real austerity. Their inability to live within their means has been perpetuated by a number of factors. For one, the breakdown of communities in cities has decreased the amount of cheap activities on offer – even having coffee with a neighbour. There’s also the fact that the government is intent on putting up taxes on cigarettes and alcohol; pleasures that cushion the blow of a low income. All the while, most young people are more glued than ever to social media, which serves as a constant comparison tool between their own wealth and that of Kim Kardashian’s. These days they don’t only want to look like her, but live like her, too, albeit by unsustainable means at times.
In the past, stigma would have stopped people living off credit constantly, but that is now gone. It is commonplace in young adults’ lives, introduced at the earliest point – mostly university – where even toothpaste can be bought using student finance. In adulthood this pattern continues.
It may appear to be somewhat hedonistic at times, but I fear young people’s relaxed activities reflect a sort of nihilism. It is easier to fritter one’s cash away on immediate purchases, closing one’s eyes to the threat of debt. Even when data shows that using credit might push our country into financial catastrophe, this group cannot be expected to care about our economy. After all, the British economy has done so little for them. Live young, spend fast, is the mantra that underpins not all, but some, of the monetary mayhem we currently find ourselves in.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.