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

Xenia Tue 07-May-13 09:44:19

It was similar in my day - full grants but not if your parents had a certain amount of money. My parents chose to make up the money to the full grant but plenty of parents did not which caused huge problems in the early 80s for children of less generous parents.

I think we are saying the suggestion is students need £7500 for rent and food etc. The rent seems to be about £3500 in many places. What they spend on travel and the like varies and some spend more than others. Just because all your peers may think certainly luxuries are necessities does not mean you need to have the same views. There are a lot of spoilt children out there and one of the best things children can get out of university is poverty and having to make do and walk not take the bus.

boomting Tue 07-May-13 10:14:07

Alpinemeadow - if their earnings have fallen then either (a) the amounts that their offspring are entitled to in the form of maintenance loans / grants / uni bursaries will rise in accordance, or (b) their income hasn't dropped below the ~£60k that means you get the minimum loan.

If it is the latter, then they are just part of the idiot middle class that does not realise that shopping in Waitrose, going on foreign holidays and going for meals out are not necessities. Anyone who claims that they cannot find £3-4000 a year from an income of £60k for their offspring is either (a) lying or (b) selfish in prioritising their material wants over the material / educational needs of their offspring.

This does all stem from the fact that they clearly do not understand the student finance system (and gahhhh - half my working life seems to be spent explaining SF, so I would quite like to speak to these parents personally) so half this discussion is irrelevant to the people in the story in the OP, though still relevant to others.

boomting Tue 07-May-13 10:15:23

Forgot to add - (c) living beyond their means. And yes, having lots of children or a big mortgage is a lifestyle choice!

Viviennemary Tue 07-May-13 10:18:53

Nearly everybody will be in the same boat. These silly stories just don't wash. People just think what idiots.

lydiajones Tue 07-May-13 10:27:50

We won't be able to afford to pay the tuition for our children but I am of the thinking that if they have a loan they will be more motivated to get a good job. We will of course help financially where we can and our home will always be their home for as long as they need it.

MrsBranestawm Tue 07-May-13 10:35:06

Don't pay their tuition! They can get a loan for that. All their peers will get a loan for it too.

If they don't get a good job then they will pay off the loan very slowly, if at all.

MrsBranestawm Tue 07-May-13 10:41:05

Have a look at these pages on the Money Saving Expert website.

OneLittleToddleTerror Tue 07-May-13 10:42:21

Haven't read the entire thread but only the first page.

First, agree with the poster saying the family needs to read the MSE. It's not worth paying for the degree upfront.

Second, learn a leaf from kiwis. We've been paying for university fees since the 90s. The govt has no power on repayment when you are overseas. It's only recently the govt strike up a pact to recover student loan payments from australia. They aren't recovering anything from debtors in the UK yet. They will never get a cent back from those moved to the US. Many of my classmates now work in the US. (I have PhD in engineering. Most of my PhD classmates are in California). A colleague of mine told me he never paid either when he worked in Norway.

OneLittleToddleTerror Tue 07-May-13 10:44:03

The colleague who worked in Norway is English. (Though I do know another from my PhD class that is working in the Scandanavia). It will take forever for the UK govt to work out a bilateral agreeement with all the EU countries. And probably will never happen if we leave the EU.

senua Tue 07-May-13 10:50:31

Do I take it that you didn't hear the broadcast Xenia? It was right up your street.grin Basically, they had arsty-fartsy careers that didn't pay enough to amply provide for their DC. They did muse at one stage about whether they should have 'gone into insurance' but decided that if they had their time again then they would still prefer the type of life they had.

Hard to feel sorry for them really but I am a meanie. DD was only entitled to the absolute minimum student loan and had very little assistance off us (no cash, but things like a Big Shop at the beginning of term). She has financed the shortfall herself, though it undoubtedly helped to have a working Gap Year before she went. It's amazing how cheaply you can live when you have to - she can have a barnstorming night out for £5 apparently!shock
I am very proud of her; she has proved that she can budget, and survive on a limited amount of money. I have no worries about her appearing in the media in 20 years' time bemoaning the price of muffins.

Needmoresleep Tue 07-May-13 12:40:05

You should be proud of her.

There is a huge focus on results in education, but what I want as well, is kids who can wait for a bus patiently, who can solve problems for themselves and not blame others, who can eat a range of food including fish and veg, who dont need "things" to prop up their self esteem, who can budget, and who are essentially nice, interesting, curious and thoughtful.

I would also like them to have an island so I can go and visit, but am hoping Xenia will invite me instead....

I did not hear the broadcast but having your parents sell their home so you can study in London without a loan or without having to take a p/t job does not seem particularly appealing.

Xenia Tue 07-May-13 15:31:52

I will certainly listen to it as it is on my list of things to catch up with. They sound like moaners and are suffering the consequences of their choices (as presumably Ms Millard has done - having to send her children to state schools because she chose to be a journalist not something better paid).

I agree there are lots of reasons not to pay the tuition fees. I suspect I may be in the rare category where it is worth paying them however. If my girls earn £50k - £70k in their mid 20s and their brothers are likely to it is highly likely all 5 children will be paying this 9% tax. Given the fees are less than the school fees I already easily pay (due to my wise career choice etc... laughing as I type) and I can also fund their first flat/house deposits I think that is a case where it is worth my paying for the youngest when their time comes.

alpinemeadow Tue 07-May-13 19:21:28

Onelittletoddleretc I think there are powers for the Student loan people (can't remember the name) to bring proceedings to enforce the loan contract if a student goes overseas. I don't know how much these powers are actually used, or how much money is currently lost, or will be lost, as a result of students going abroad. But obviously that may be an issue.

funnyperson Tue 07-May-13 21:00:23

Xenia please stop using the royal 'we' when talking about money.

Xenia Tue 07-May-13 21:48:58
Xenia Tue 07-May-13 22:13:47

semua, I agree. I have listened to half of it and trhey do not really provoke any sympathy at all and things they seem to take for granted or did in their more better off past seem extravagent so you are almost pleased they are getting their come uppance and they are reaping what they sowed as one man gave up wellpaid work (so of course he has no money) and a few women stopped work to have children and then the husband's job went so again they took that risk. Their moaning about having to do cleaning as it's boring is fun to hear.

OneLittleToddleTerror Tue 07-May-13 22:28:05

alpine they can say all they like that they will bring proceedings against debtors overseas. But how do they know where you have gone? You are supposed to inform them. But we all know the UK govt cant even tell if failed asylum seekers are still in the country! Most of NZs outstanding loans are to debtors overseas. So far they have prosecuted 20 odd people living in Australia only. We started the loan scheme in 1992 fyi.

By the way, some calculations said 2/3 of debtors won't repay their loans over their lifetime. It is quite a shocking number really.

alpinemeadow Wed 08-May-13 06:37:21

Yes oltt, it would be interesting to know how much is outstanding from those who are working abroad - there was something in the newspapers a few momths ago, but i can't quickly find it - and how many cases the student loan company has successfully enforced. With higher fees, it will be even more important for the slc to pursue people who are overseas, but as you say there are practical difficulties!
2/3 of the total not repaid is a lot! But then the way people describe the system is as if the prospect of non repayment is one of its selling points (which in a way it may be) - 'borrow the money because you may never have to repay it!' An unusual message (repeating myself here!). and one whose effects on motivation/incentives etc are unpredictable!

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