It's safe to say that former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who died this afternoon aged 87, was a divisive figure.
Her headstrong – some might say belligerent – policies, informed by laissez-faire economic philosophies and the perceived power of the free market, had a huge effect on the financial situations of millions of people.
Here are a few of ‘The Iron Lady’s’ most notable economic reforms, the impacts of which can still be felt today.
PRIVITISATION OF THE UK ENERGY INDUSTRY
The carving up of Britain’s publicly owned energy industry was meant to increase consumer choice and consequently give everyone a better deal. It also meant that ‘normal’ people could invest in state-owned bodies which were floated on the stock market, like British Gas – and many did.
However, today’s record profits for foreign-owned companies like Centrica (owner of British Gas), EDF and E.on, coupled with depressingly regular refrains of bumper price hikes suggest that privatisation may not have been so good for consumers.
With Britain having to import so much of its power from Russia and the Middle East, closing so much of the UK’s coal industry seems more and more like a bad idea with each passing month.
However, it must be remembered that the Britain of 1979, in which Thatcher came to power, was one in which energy shortages, blackouts and three-day working weeks were commonplace. We have not seen a return to those days – at least, not yet.
RIGHT TO BUY
This was one of Thatcher’s first major reforms after coming to power. It gave tenants who’d lived in council-owned property for more than three years a discount of up to 33% on the market value of their property, increasing up to a whopping 50% if they’d lived there for 20 years or more.
As a result, more than two million homes passed from public ownership into private hands between 1979 and 1995, swelling the government’s coffers and helping a boom in house prices in the process.
But it also severely diminished the stock of social housing available and meant that lots of former council property fell into the hands of private landlords.
In fact, an investigation by the Daily Mirror last month found that over half of former council stock is now being let by private landlords in at least one London borough.
DEREGULATISATION OF THE CITY AND THE ‘BIG BANG’
There is a case to be made that the ‘casino capitalism’ excesses which led to the banking crisis of 2008 have their roots in Thatcher’s deregulation of London’s financial district in 1986.
The unshackling of the banks caused London – which was fast losing its status as an international financial powerhouse, thanks to perceived overregulation and 'old boy's' networks – to rally and regain its place at the forefront of the world’s economy. It also made a lot of people very rich.
However, a lack of regulation meant that bankers were left to their own devices – and we all know in hindsight what happens then...