LESS than two months into the year, no-one should be in any doubt that pressure on UK household finances is going to be an enduring theme through 2018.

Make no mistake: the Conservative Government’s grinding and ill-judged austerity programme is continuing. The Government may have toned down its austerity rhetoric, but the effect on the economy and society is as miserable as ever.

As if that were not bad enough, the Brexit vote came along. Sterling’s inevitable post-Brexit vote tumble has caused inflation to surge, triggering a renewed fall in real wages. And the inevitable Brexit uncertainty, exacerbated rather than reduced by the Government’s negotiations with the European Union, has made companies and consumers nervous.

Companies have reined in investment. Brexit is also making some companies wary about pay awards - a factor in the renewed fall in real wages.

Many of those households which do have money to spend are reluctant to make major purchases in this grim post-Brexit vote climate.

It need not have been like this. Many other countries, including those in the eurozone, are seeing some brighter times after some difficult years, as the UK economy struggles.

The retail sector, like many consumers, finds itself at the sharp end of the UK’s economic troubles. A year-on-year fall in Scottish retail sales value in January, against a weak comparative figure, is just the latest illustration of this. And the continuing lack of signs of anything that is about to make things better remains demoralising.