Tales from the Squeezed Middle

(93 Posts)
Xenia Sat 04-May-13 08:37:37

Article in today's Weekend FT.It does look as if the Durham couple in the article below (see a forthcoming R4 programme mentioned at the end) are being a bit foolish. Their daughter with her Cambridge degree can pay back her student debt during her life. No need to sell their home when they have 2 other children too.

"First Person: Caroline Beck

As told to Rosie Millard
The struggling freelance writer says she ‘can see the abyss’

We’d always thought of this house as being our pension. It was derelict when we bought it 14 years ago, we have done everything ourselves; the painting, the flooring, the garden … But we need that money now. I can’t think of any alternative but to sell.

Roisin, our eldest daughter, has been offered a place at Cambridge university. I can’t bear the thought of her being saddled with huge debts, so we will sell up and live in rented accommodation.

I am a freelance writer, my partner is a wine merchant. Lots of people here in County Durham – architects, graphic designers, photographers – are going through the same thing. We all used to be OK. Some of them now have no work. I am still working but I can always see the abyss, my toes are reaching over the edge.

Six years ago both the children played the piano, one went swimming and my eldest daughter had singing lessons. They don’t have any lessons any more. It’s my youngest daughter Eve’s birthday next week. She hasn’t asked us for anything. We won’t give her a party because this week we had three catastrophic bills: the exhaust fell off my car yesterday; our oven blew up at the beginning of the week; and, last month, the lights in the kitchen fused.

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We look at our finances every day to find out where the money is coming from. For the last two weeks of each month we live off a lot of lentils and chickpeas.

I make my own bread because it saves me £10 a week. I make all my own cakes because if the girls take a slice of it to school, they won’t spend £2 on a muffin. So much of my time is devoted to domesticity. And I find that boring.

For six months I have not been out of this jumper. I wash it. I put it on the radiator. And then I wear it the next morning because it’s the warmest thing I possess. We all have one pair of jeans, and we do the same thing. We also save by not having the heating on much.

We used to take really flash holidays. But when we went to Europe last year, we stayed in hostels. We would have breakfast in the morning, then we wouldn’t eat again until the evening.

Recently I had a voucher for £7 off my weekly shop. I gave it to the shop assistant at the till and she told me it was out of date. Although the date on the voucher said it was in date, the scanner was saying it wasn’t. So, I am standing there with my shopping … my kids are saying “Oh Mum!” There are people standing behind me, but I don’t care: I want this £7 off, because £7 off is £7 off. I never would have done that eight years ago. I would have thought: “Oh that is a crazy woman in the supermarket.” I dug my heels in, and, in the end, it got knocked off.

I went to university in the early 1980s when we were told that our generation of young women could have it all. And I did think we could have it all. I thought I could have a career. I thought I could have children. I thought I could have a cleaner and go out occasionally. When I was 21, if somebody had fast-forwarded my life and said “That’s what you will be doing”, I would have said: “No, no, no. That’s my mother’s generation, I will not be doing that.”

It won’t bother me not owning a house.

What bothers me is getting us all through the next decade, so we can get our children to a point where they are self-sustaining. Right now that seems a long way off. We are not living in a Victorian novel. We are healthy, we are happy, we are together. But I can’t see an end to it. I don’t know how they are going to ever afford to buy a house. They are going to be living in rented accommodation for the rest of their lives.

At the end of the day it’s a house. It’s a house that we have done up and we love and we have been really happy here. But it is just a house."

“Tales from the Squeezed Middle”, by Rosie Millard, will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Monday May 6.
www.ft.com/cms/s/2/78affbb4-b1e6-11e2-9315-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2SJ60wVvM

Baiji Sun 05-May-13 22:06:40

There's such a divide between the 'squeezed middle' kids and the 'full loan, grant and bursary' crowd who are lent / given up to £10k per year. they don't need that much.

From what I hear, the students from low income families furnish themselves with ipads, iphones, head to toe Hollister and are out every night, while the kids of working parents can sometimes barely feed themselves. It's crazy.


Oh, Xenia, I would so love it if your daughters became housewives.

creamteas Sun 05-May-13 22:16:35

If all that fails many can go to university at home and have none of those problems

Assuming that the parents are willing and able for you to stay there of course. If travel costs are high, the home rate of the maintenance loan can be less than child benefit/child tax credits and therefore some parents may not be able to afford to keep their child whilst they are studying.

Not every parent is supportive of university anyway. I have also had students whose parents' refused to fill in the income forms so the maintenance loan can be assessed, leaving them in real hardship.

alpinemeadow Sun 05-May-13 22:26:56

Yes creamtree, I've seen posters saying that living at home is not necessarily cheaper if you have travel costs.
In any case it may be a very false economy - to turn down a place at eg a Russell Group university because it's cheaper to live at home is not an ideal scenario, even if you're just looking at the monetary implications!

mummytime Sun 05-May-13 22:35:22

Oxbridge are against working in term, as terms as so short and intense. However at least the richest colleges, provide accommodation for all or nearly all student, and their students don't have to pay rent for the vacations. Which is a huge advantage.
As well as providing a valuable brand name on your CV.

The stories of poor background students wasting fortunes to the envy of their MC counterparts sound a little apocryphal. Poor background students know that no one is going to bale them out if they end up with debts. They also tend to choose either degrees with good job prospects, or ones they have a real passion for.

funnyperson Sun 05-May-13 22:44:40

Hm. In London, students are up against the rest of the universe for part time jobs, and for affordable accommodation. Living in cheap accomodation far out from the university library leads to long hours spent on night buses, after the library has closed, and isn't necessarily productive. Oxford on 3k might be OK for a first year student but doesn't add up when a full year's rent has to be paid in the second year.
I think students need more than 3k a year to top up their loan, especially London students. I also think it is reasonable for parents to want their offspring to be debt free.

funnyperson Sun 05-May-13 22:48:53

The problem is that whoever dreamt up the student loan system thought that what works in America would work in the UK. It is common for Americans to work their way through college and graduate with debt. But the UK is not the USA. In London, in particular, degrees at UCL will be unaffordable for children of average families, and will alter -has indeed already altered the very nature and fabric of the student body.

funnyperson Sun 05-May-13 22:56:30

All mums are housewives IMO, just that some work in a career too. As a matter of fact I agree with Xenia that young ladies should use their brains and talent and capacity for industry to establish a rewarding and hopefully well paid career, and have the ability to be independent. This is perfectly compatible with being a mother, and indeed with being a married mother. Sorry to sidetrack.
That said, there seems to be a growing case on this thread for working for just under 20k in the family company.........

Xenia Mon 06-May-13 07:12:27

My list of ways of how to top up the £4k loan up to what your rent/travel/food costs is the may most students do manage.

As someone said above those who are from very low income families are given more . Someone said up to £10k a year. I don't; think they need that for rent and food etc particularly if they can live at home in holidays as plenty can even if their parents are in dire straits. Holiday jobs are not that difficult. I was talking to someone with a student daughter adn she works in her local Star bucks near home in London in all university holidays. It is not impossible to obtain holiday jobs although I certainly agree it is difficult in some areas.

(B, if my children decide not to work that is up to them. I have borrowed 5 children and learn as much from them as vice versa and what they decide to do is their decision. One is getting married this year and the other is in her 20s too so those issues may not be so far away and apply to sons too of course as well in non gender biased households).

alpinemeadow Mon 06-May-13 07:43:29

That's interesting funnyperson about the composition of the student body - how do you think it's changed so far?

Someone said further down the thread that their dh thought sooner or later the govt will just write off all the loans as a costly mess. I dont see that happening myself, but 30yrs is a long time, so who knows? If/once those discussions start, that will also create interesting incentive issues while people wait to see what happens at the next election (ie the one in which its an issue). Potential for lots of unintended consequences there!

funnyperson Mon 06-May-13 10:13:11

My perception of the UCL student body in particular is that the students these days almost invariably come from the wealthier (and in many cases very wealthy) families. The average families tend to send their offspring to more affordable places.

funnyperson Mon 06-May-13 10:19:01

Oxford and Cambridge are a lot more affordable due to keeping down student accommodation costs and no transport costs as well as student entertainment and activities are all much much cheaper (a play or concert in Oxford is 10 times cheaper than in London). Therefore the class background of the student body is more mixed than UCL. Imperial is interesting because of the science orientation, so the less wealthy families are more willing to invest hard earned cash, and also at least a third of the student body live at home for part of their degree. LSE is funded by their foreign student intake who are all fleeced by the university fee structure and accommodation market.

TheSecondComing Mon 06-May-13 10:21:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

funnyperson Mon 06-May-13 10:28:49

These changes are irreversible. The loan system will most likely become privatised or out to tender. The UK university system will be like the 'ivy league' but without billionaire philanthropy to fund poorer students on merit.

It's one of the main reasons why we don't want to move out of Central London - it'll give DD the greatest choice of universities (or colleges or whatever) without forking out enormous amounts of rent. I feel nostalgic about the loss of the freedom of moving away from home though, and Oxbridge might be a nicer option from that POV.

Numberlock Mon 06-May-13 10:57:14

My dd wants to go to UCL. We're fucking brassic, have absolutely no idea how she will do it tbh.

Is this for October 2013 admission TSC?

TheSecondComing Mon 06-May-13 11:22:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Numberlock Mon 06-May-13 11:25:41

You have my sympathies, I have twin sons starting in October this year. Barely any concession made for more than one child at uni and why should the maintenance loan be means-tested??

funnyperson Mon 06-May-13 11:27:23

I feel quite angry about the issue of student accommodation in London. For example, there is a company called 'Unite' which owns a number of prime central London blocks, which advertises 'affordable' student accommodation which starts at £200 per week. This then sets the bar for the private landlords.

TheSecondComing Mon 06-May-13 11:31:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Roshbegosh Mon 06-May-13 11:33:12

Mad to sell the family home that's for sure. Maybe bring a bit more only in by doing the freelance writing on top of a proper job.

funnyperson Mon 06-May-13 11:33:31

Website here
https://www.unite-students.com/london
They offer 8 month (40 week) contracts so are expecting £8000 per student.
If a student wishes to live within walking distance of university in London, after the first year, it is almost certainly the cheaper option to go to Unite (!) But of course many live further out, radically affecting the ability of the student to participate in peer life. It wasn't like this when I was a London student.

Roshbegosh Mon 06-May-13 11:33:37

More money that was supposed to say

Numberlock Mon 06-May-13 11:46:42

TSC - will she be entitled to a maintenance grant and full loan?

MarjorieAntrobus Mon 06-May-13 11:57:36

Have a look at the Student Finance calculator

creamteas Mon 06-May-13 12:01:21

Private halls of residence are common and there are different companies involved. Some are expert at fleecing students. For example, charging an extra amount to pay over the year rather than all-up-front. So do read the small print.

A big way to save money on housing, is not to sign a contract for private renting before the summer vacation. Students rush into finding a house quite early in the year, and end up paying for a house they are not going to use. In most places, there are decent houses to live available in Sept, as long as you are not too specific about what you want. Paying rent for a house you are not using really is a waste of money.

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