UK 4th in Europe for standard of living, crushing inequalities remain

UK 4th in Europe for standard of living, crushing inequalities remain
Living standards in the UK are the fourth highest in the EU, according to new figures. The release of the Eurostat report comes as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls warns the latest austerity measures could plunge the UK into a new depression era.

The EU statistical office released new figures on Thursday, which show the UK has overtaken the Netherlands and is “significantly” ahead of Spain, Italy and France.

The figures are a holistic combination of the goods and services consumed per household, including benefits such as access to healthcare and education services. Eurostat says the living standard is a measure of “actual individual consumption.”

The report shows living standards in the UK in 2013 were 15 percent higher than the average within the EU member states, following the impressive lead of Luxembourg, Germany and Austria.

These promising statistics suggest the UK public is feeling the effects of a recovering economy. Conflicting sources, however, say current austerity plans consign the nation’s poorest to abject poverty, suggesting a wide and growing wealth disparity.

On Thursday, Labour’s Ed Balls called Conservative Chancellor George Osborne’s deficit recovery plan “extreme,” saying it could send the economy “back to a 1930s Britain.”

I don’t want to have our children grow up in a society where people sit behind fences because there are not any police, or where children born into poverty stay in poverty, or where our National Health Service becomes Americanized,” he added.

Britain's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls (AFP Photo/Leon Neals)

Osborne’s planned cuts sparked mass debate after the BBC claimed they would lead the UK into a depression-like era reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic, The Road to Wigan Pier.

The Chancellor stood by his decision, telling the BBC on Monday that cuts to welfare were essential to reinvigorate the economy.

We are going to have to make savings ... we are going to have to cut certain welfare bills like benefits that go to working-age people,” he said.

But the prize is economic stability, growth, jobs in the future … brighter future, I think that's a price that works for our country,” he added.

READ MORE:‘A price that works for our country’: Osborne spurns warnings, backs further austerity

Eurostat found UK prices were the sixth highest in the EU, and 14 percent higher than the European average.

This, coupled with the revelation that real wages in the UK are stagnating, could mean the standard of living is not as high, stable or as widely felt as the European report suggests.

The statistics also follow a landmark report on food banks, partially funded by the Church of England, released on Monday. The cross-party report claimed the government was not doing enough to tackle the rising levels of food poverty in the UK.

It estimated more than 2,000 working families will find themselves in need of assistance from voluntary organizations for food and other necessities.

READ MORE:‘Hunger stalks the nation’: Church of England slams govt as 1mn Brits dependent on food banks

According to a feature report published in the Guardian on Wednesday, around 4,500 children will also require assistance as a result of severe poverty.

May 2014 figures, from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), found Britain’s richest 1 percent have as much wealth as the poorest 55 percent of the population.