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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 21 August, 2014

Nick Leeson: Positive talk sounds hollow in the corridors of power

Talking up the state of the economy got us into this mess in the first place – but things are not looking up for the average man and woman.

Nick Leeson

THERE IS A lot of optimism around at the moment.

In the main centres of population, property prices are starting to rise; in Dublin the year-on-year growth is even starting to rival that of the pre-global financial crisis era. In Dublin, Galway and other main cities around the country, there is a certain amount of construction work underway; the Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index has also shown the largest increase in eight years.

The auction rooms in those cities are also starting to fill up but that appears to be the extent of the positivity.

Forget the fundamentals that can be equally easily presented in a positive or negative manner, depending on who is speaking. The government should be made more aware of the people that austerity is really affecting.

I don’t want to appear like the Grim Reaper or the Scrooge that stole Christmas but when things start to look good, it’s the time to be even more cautious than before. After all, it was all that positive ‘Narnia’ talk that got us here in the first place.

The nation’s banks are little more than glorified debt collectors

There is no doubt that in the corridors of power, Leinster House and Banking headquarters, things are looking up. The Government is technically exiting the bailout but we’ll still be paying the bill for the next 50 or 60 years.

The banks are returning to some form of profitability but are doing very little real banking. There is virtually no lending, other than a few metrics that are cleverly massaged through the media to suggest otherwise. The nation’s banks are little more than glorified debt collectors. I don’t see that changing too much into the future.

The summary of all this? Those who ‘have’ are doing quite well and it’s very easy for the media to represent those people. Those who ‘have not’ are being ploughed deeper and deeper into trouble. These people are getting left behind. They are the very same people that are being hit the hardest, both in the pocket and their lives in general.

Ask yourself what does Ireland really look like today to you? There is clearly evidence that things are improving for some people but when you step out of those centres of population – and even certain areas of those centres – the story is very different.

For every job that is announced, there are several that are lost.

The high streets remain largely deserted.

The majority of properties outside of regional centres are looking dilapidated.

Social unrest is on the increase.

Petty theft and burglary is getting out of control.

The social cost

Most strikingly, food poverty has become a very real issue. In modern developed economies, this should never be the situation. I personally find both alarming and frightening that the standard of living has slipped quite so far.

The real social cost is astounding. Mental health issues are dominating people’s day to day lives. Just this week again in Galway, two young people – that I know of – have taken their lives, both under the age of thirty. Multiply this out by the number of cities in Ireland and you wouldn’t be far wrong to describe it as an epidemic.

Bottom line: if the economy had corrected itself and the powers that run this country and its banks had addressed the problems, principally debt, we could immediately shut the doors of the debt solution company where I work. The fact is that our door is being beaten down with people looking for representation to deal with the banks and negotiate a reduction in their debt levels.

They don’t know where to start, are largely overwhelmed and need professional help to relieve themselves of the stress they are facing. Social responsibility doesn’t extend too far when dealing with a bank, they will grind you down and there will be little or no recourse to the consequences.

No one deserves to live like this, cancelling health insurance so that they can pay the electricity bill or going without heat so that they can feed the children. These are the better cases. So whilst the politicians and bankers are warming their feet at their open hearth fire in upper class surburbia, the health of the nation is very much at risk.

The vast majority of the nation are keeping a positive front trying to deliver a Christmas that their loved ones either wish for or expect. The post-Christmas period will be a worrying period for all but a few.

Please always talk about your problems, whatever they may be. It really is the only way to deal with them. Act before you react in a way that puts your health at risk.

Nick Leeson is a principal at GDP Partnership and has written Don’t Panic: Understanding Personal Debt, in bookshops and at thehistorypress.ie.

Nick Leeson: The banks don’t care so we need to look after each other>

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