I’ve had one on one conversations with people as far back to those born in the latter part of the 19th century.
None of my grandparents came from a background of wealth and privilege and when I consider what has happened to their children, my parents, aunts and uncles, it is clear that most of them have managed to improve their standard of living compared with the previous generation.
This was also the case with my generation with most of my cousins doing better than their parents.
So for close to 150 years in my family we have seen steady progress in living standards from where past generations were and from what I’ve read and heard about my family going back further this trend has been going on for a very long time.
So where have we come from and where are we now?
Well, my parents and grandparents were no strangers to the big contributors to miserable lives and an early death.
One of the biggest threats to life during the 19th century and first half of the 20th was war.
My parents and grandparents from the Boer War up to the end of the Second World War were living in an era where we were just about to go into a war, be in a war or just about to come out of a war.
As someone born in the second half of the 20th century I have been so lucky as the wars the UK have been involved in have been very different to the wars my parents and grandparents endured, especially when it came to war deaths.
Another big threat they had to deal with was the issue of health and access to health care.
At the start of the 20th century when the UK was preparing to go to war the doctors involved in the recruitment process were aghast about the state of the health of working people.
They were in such a poor state of health, including malnutrition, and as such were not eligible to be part of the military on health grounds alone.
This was a huge wake-up call and resulted in the National Insurance Act of 1911 that provided access to GPs for manual labourers and lower paid non-manual workers earning under a certain income.
Also remember many of the medical breakthroughs that allowed life expectancy to rise exponentially did not happen until later in the 20th century.
Related to health was the state of the infrastructure in the 19th century especially access to clean water.
As we all know the Victorians invested big time in the infrastructure from roads to railways and access to clean water.
This did not happen all at once to solve embedded problems and I can remember visiting relatives who lived in houses with no running water and relied on outside shared toilets.
After the end of the Second World War we also witnessed a massive change especially housing standards in the 1950s and 1960s.
The other scourge of the working people in the UK is the class system which regrettably is very much alive and kicking today.
We all know private schools and an Oxford or Cambridge degree opens many doors that are closed to most of the population.
It is now much easier to move up the class system, but for the majority who are born into poor households that is where they will remain for the rest of their lives.
Today progress has stalled but I’m betting this is just part of the transition we are going through.
As in the past human ingenuity will provide solutions to many of our problems and as a result kick start the economic growth engine.