Review of the year - April 2012

George OsborneToby Melville/PA Wire

This April, George Osborne's claims of us all being 'in it together', felt particularly hollow. The economy made a surprise return to recession, amidst news that a million UK jobs had been lost in the UK over the past five years.

And it was all made that much worse with news of how the other half were living: from public sector fat cats sitting pretty on six-figure salaries, to a record number of billionaires residing in the UK.

Return to recession

Official figures revealed that the UK was back in recession, after the economy contracted 0.2% in the first three months of the year.This was driven to a large extent by the biggest fall in construction output for three years, while the manufacturing sector failed to return to growth. Some 59% of AOL users blamed the government's austerity measures for the change.

Job centre queue stuntGeorgie Gillard/PA Wire

A million jobs lost

Meanwhile there was more bad news on the jobs front. A study by the TUC found that almost a million jobs have been lost since 2007 in sectors such as manufacturing, retail, hotels and restaurants, which traditionally appeal to young people. Over 280,000 construction jobs were lost as well as 220,000 in retail, hotels and restaurants. Only the finance and business services sectors had bigger workforces than before the recession.

A million mortgages rise

The month also saw a host of mortgage companies push up their standard variable rates - so that a million borrowers faced bad news about their repayments. Lenders including HSBC, the Co-operative Bank, Clydesdale and Yorkshire all put up their rates - blaming the weak economy.

TaxmanDavid Cheskin/PA.

Another tax fiasco

And there were even tax headaches. This time is was an HMRC blunder which hit people who have previously self-assessed, but were part of a project to remove people from the self-assessment system.

HMRC asked people to contact them if they previously went through the self-assessment rigmarole, but were now working full time for just one company and paying tax through PAYE.

As a result of this project, 130,000 received letters saying they had been taken out of the system and didn't need to complete a tax return last time around. Unfortunately a systems glitch means that 12,000 of them then had letters saying that because they failed to submit a tax return, they needed to pay their £100 fine.

Fat CatAP Photo/David Smith, The Canadian Press

Sitting pretty

However, while the majority of us struggled with bad news on every side, there were those who remained untouched by the troubled economy: senior people in the public sector.

It emerged that there were more than 3,000 senior council executives earning more than £100,000 and that around 700 school leaders were earning six-figure salaries, according to data published by the Department for Education.

And the Treasury announced that it had given the go-ahead for 191 public servants to be paid more than the Prime Minister - that's more than £142,500 a year.

The very richest

And to round off a month of profound inequality, The Sunday Times Rich List revealed that the wealthiest 1,000 people in the UK were worth a record £414 billion - almost 5% more than a year earlier. There were 77 billionaires in the 2012 rich list this year, two more than the previous record of 75 in 2008, and the top spot was taken by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, 61 and his family: worth £12.7 billion.

Some people were clearly 'in it' to a much smaller extent than others.
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