David Cameron has called on the British people to remain optimistic about their prospects in 2013, as a new poll shows that more than twice as many voters are pessimistic about the year ahead as believe that their circumstances will improve.
In his new year message, the prime minister insists that despite daunting economic challenges the country was on the right track, with the deficit forecast to be down by a quarter compared with a year ago and half a million more people in work.
Cameron says that the country could not succeed in the global economic race against growing economies such as China, India and Indonesia "with a great millstone of debt round our necks", and argues that changes to welfare were not cruel but were a means of getting more people into employment and helping those who "want to work hard and get on in life". "We can look to the future with realism and optimism," the prime minister says. "Realism because you can't cure problems that were decades in the making overnight. There are no quick fixes and I wouldn't claim otherwise. But we can be optimistic too because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what's right for our country and what's best for our children's future. And nothing could be more important than that."
However, an Opinium/Observer poll shows that with the economy teetering on the brink of a "triple-dip" recession, voters are going into the new year unconvinced that things will improve, expecting 2013 to deliver even more financial hardship.
Of adults polled, 43% say they expect their personal finances to get worse over the next 12 months, while only 20% predict they would get better. Older people are the most pessimistic, with 53% of those aged over 55 believing their circumstances will deteriorate, against 9% who expect things to get better.
Young people are more positive and evenly split, with 37% saying they expect their finances to get better against 25% who fear they will deteriorate.
The level of support for the main parties also makes sobering reading for both coalition parties, with Cameron's Conservatives stuck on 29%, 10 points adrift of Labour on 39%. Ed Miliband's party, while comfortably ahead, will be worried about not breaking regularly and clearly through the 40% mark. Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are languishing on just 8%, while Nigel Farage's Ukip continues its surge, standing at 15% – almost double the tally for the Lib Dems.
In his new year message, Farage calls on Ukip members to sustain the momentum, following what he describes as a remarkable year for his party. He predicts that Cameron would soon offer some "vague" promise of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, with the vote taking place after the next election.
Ukip – which wants to lead the UK out of the EU – would, Farage says, begin campaigning hard on the issue of immigration from new EU member states – focusing on the need to limit the number of Romanians and Bulgarians who can enter the UK.
Five-year-old quotas limiting the number of people from the two countries will expire in December next year, meaning that their citizens can move to live in Britain with no restrictions under the EU's freedom of movement rules.
Home secretary Theresa May said recently that the UK would be unable to hold back a tide of new immigration from the two former communist states once the existing transitional arrangements had expired.
Farage says the issue would be "top of Ukip's campaigning agenda" before the 2014 European elections and the general election the year after. "How can it be right that someone who comes here can automatically qualify for jobseeker's "Surely the benefits system is there for British families who in many cases for generations have paid into this?" Farage says.
"But it's also about jobs and at a time when we have 21% and rising youth unemployment in Britain, what is the sense of having yet more oversupply in the unskilled labour market in this country? Well, as far as we are concerned there is none at all," he adds.
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