Sunday Times article about impoverished middle class

(16 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 25-Apr-13 11:21:53

Hello

We thought you might like to know that we've a guest blog by David Boyle, author of Broke: Who Killed the Middle Class?,over here

I was sold the lie that house prices tend to go up.

And it is worth mentioning that until say 2005 it was rare to get a 90% mortgage, let alone 125%. We were told that this would all be fine (fortunately DH and I laughed in their faces when offered five times joint salary at 125% LTV and borrowed considerably less).

This recession has seen fewer repossessions purely because repayments aren't growing. People's LTV might now be 150% in some cases, but this is muffled by the fact that the majority can still make their mortgage payments: they just can't move.

Meringue33 Thu 25-Apr-13 09:37:52

This makes me see red. There is middle class and then there is middle class. There is struggling and then there is struggling! She needs to get some perspective and stop being so damned entitled.

Xenia Thu 25-Apr-13 09:20:20

tosca, I don't complain about what the article complains about. The article is a whinge from those picking lowish paid middle class careers and then not being happy with their choices and the low income that results.

I don't think any of us were sold the lie house prices always go up. I remember (just) the 1970s property crash. I remember the 1981 recession not least because of my 115 post grad job applications. I remember the 90s property crash and interest rates of 20% and negative equity then. Anyone looking at property market prices can look at the graphs and curves and see the ups and downs and crashes which have always been a feature. That data was available over 20 years ago to all of us and we read it.

Actually although the article had cringeworthy moments it did mainly talk about expectations - that your middle-class child of the 70s/80s was taught "work hard and you too can have a 4-bed house, two cars, foreign holidays, etc". And although they did work hard and earn well, they still can't attain the lifestyle their parents took for granted.

People who committed to a £1m house seven years ago (erk) might have a house worth £900k with an £800k mortgage. No matter what you earn, that's some significant monthly repayments, if you were sold the lie that house prices and salaries only ever go up, and of course you'll pay your mortgage off early.

Of course it isn't hardship like "shit, the electricity's gone - shall I use my last fiver to top up the meter or buy bread and milk?" hardship, but it was an article that will have spoken to many readers.

If you want the RAGE read the money section. It's all about how best to save for future school fees for Jonty and Araminta by putting the first £60k in liquid stocks and the rest in bonds. grin , angry and shock

Lazyjaney Wed 24-Apr-13 20:13:24

A fairly radical TED video that TED never advertised, argues that the best thing to do now is put money into the pockets of the middle class and stop giving the rich tax breaks.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKCvf8E7V1g&feature=youtube_gdata_player

ttosca Wed 24-Apr-13 15:35:46

Xenia-

> It is the fear that this has nothing to do with the temporary economic downturn, and that there is a fundamental shift going on that marks the slow decline of the middle classes as an identifiable segment of British life — the end, not so much of privilege, but of what the middle classes believe they stand for: education, culture, leadership.

> The fear is that this generation will be the last to live the aspirational middle-class life, that the future will be an endless, heartbreaking succession of small shifts downwards towards a precarious existence, dependent on mean employers, short contracts, demanding landlords and state handouts in old age.

> “All my friends are struggling,” Deborah adds, and again she is not alone. Two-thirds of middle-income people in the UK are not saving for a pension. Half of them also struggle with bills every day, but the unease goes deeper than paying the bills in the middle of a global downturn.

> The middle classes find it hard to articulate it even to themselves, but the truth is that they can no longer afford the life they always imagined having. It is not that they are greedy or want something for nothing. But they did assume, because that is what they were always told, that they would have a life like their parents and grandparents — a comfortable home, a respected professional position and good schools for their children.

Indeed. But this isn't just a problem in the UK (although it's particularly bad in the UK since it never had a middle-class revolution like most of europe).

The situation the poor and middle-class find themselves in today -- the precarious existence of low pay and/or job insecurity and/or debt is not the result of any 'natural' phenomenon. Economics is not like the weather.

We are all (except for the top 1%) in this situation today because of deliberate policies of the past 30 years of neo-liberal economics. This means: privitisation, deregulation, attack on workers rights, the rise of corporate political power...

It's a shame that you complain about this situation, but then I have only ever seen you defend the very political and economic policies which are creating it.

If we want to live in a fair society where work pays a fair wage, where we can be reasonably secure in our jobs, and not worry about having enough money to pay for basic human rights like education and health, then the only thing we can do is fight for our rights and shape society for the benefit of the many, rather than the few.

The alternative - pointing fingers and fighting amongst ourselves for breadcrumbs, which is what the Tories would like us to do - will bring us nothing but more misery.

marysim Wed 24-Apr-13 09:35:39

Joblessness remains stubbornly high in the United States But there might be more to that than the meddling of the usual suspects in Washington and on Wall Street. A recent report states that, due to technological advances, computers and bots are killing middle class jobs at a growing rate.

Xenia Tue 23-Apr-13 16:39:46

I agree. It was not a particularly inspiring article and I do not agree everyone used to be able to afford to live in central London. nearly 30 years ago we had to buy in zone 5 (outer London). Our first house there costs about £275,000 these days which is not an impossible sum to afford if you have 2 full time careers.

In case of interest here is the article:

I was born in Little Venice, a corner of central London that wraps itself around a great grey-green greasy stretch of water called the Regent’s Canal. As anyone familiar with Little Venice will know, this defines me inescapably as middle class. Not just slightly middle class, but staggeringly, swelteringly, stratospherically middle class, as middle as you can get.

But there are many kinds of middle class. From the first-generation middle classes who followed the entrepreneurial path set out by Margaret Thatcher right through to the crustiest scion of the landed gentry. From the brand-new estate outside Bishop’s Stortford to the tumbledown off-grid eco-cottage outside Totnes.

In my case, both grandfathers were in the services, one a colonel and the other a captain in the navy. Their pensions and various modest pots of inherited money and property gave them relatively comfortable retirements. I owe my grandparents a great deal for their love and care, but also perhaps for placing me so unambiguously in such a recognisable spot in the class system.

Neither set of grandparents approved very much when my newly married parents moved into a run-down rented flat in Little Venice, which was not in those days quite what it has become. The canal stank of drowned cats, and the street had been a notorious red-light district. Downstairs was a fearsome Alf Garnett figure, string-vested and with a fluent and foul-mouthed command of the language, who would hammer on the ceiling at the slightest provocation.

We moved to another rented flat when I was about three, though I have wandered down that street many times and watched the slow transformation of the red-light district, first into respectability and then into luxury. At a dinner party a few years ago, I ran into a couple who lived at the top of the building where I started out. They told me that our flat was now inhabited by the head of Benetton Europe. It had become, through the strange metamorphosis of gentrification, a fitting home for the new class of ultra-rich.

During my lifetime — even my adult lifetime — my contemporaries and I have witnessed an extraordinary revolution in the fortunes of the middle classes, from the widespread doubts in the mid-1970s whether they could survive at all, through to their apotheosis under Thatcher a decade later. The revolution was carried forward into staggering house-price inflation, as previously careful and respectable middle-class investors began to cream off the rewards of the next property bubble.

Public policy has been intended to promote the middle-class life ever since. So given that extraordinary shift in fortunes — and the cascade of money through property and financial services known as Big Bang — why is it that the middle classes feel so threatened?

Why have their homes and way of life and retirements become virtually unaffordable, with home ownership falling steadily, and now lower than in Romania and Bulgaria? Why are they in such a panic about their children’s education? Why has their professional judgment been shunned? And why have they allowed their hardworking duty to career, family and salary to be so futile — given that, however successful they become, there is a banker half their age whose bonus makes them look ridiculous? In short, why are we wondering again whether the distinctive lifestyles of the English middle classes can survive?


BY WRITING about the plight of the middle classes, I am not implying that nobody else is suffering — quite the reverse. But I make no apology for defending them, or assuming that they are worth defending, because I believe there is something about middle-class life in the UK that is worth preserving. Not the privilege, not the snobbery, but the right of everyone to live the kind of independent life I was brought up with and which I struggle to provide for my own family.

I am a self-employed writer so I am hardly wealthy (I am probably the only person to conduct an independent review for the government on tax credits). But I went to independent school, in the days when we still called them “public schools”, and was constantly told that I was privileged without being told what that might imply. I live in a small detached home with a lawn. I have an allotment. I shop at Waitrose, at least when I can afford it.

I have had a huge number of conversations about being middle class. One was with Deborah Lane, who went online to explain her financial struggles. When she wrote the words “I’m skint” on her blog, which tracks the peculiarities of a middle-class life in west London, her readership suddenly went up from double figures to thousands.

It was written as a cry from the heart of the beleaguered middle classes. But when you have a £900,000 home in west London, and the endless leafy suburbs of middle-class book clubs, parents’ evenings and recycling classes stretching all around, why would you worry about money?

“I would say I had aspirations,” Deborah tells me as we sip our coffee and tea next to the river in Hammersmith. “I always wanted to be married. I knew where I was going to live and how I was going to live.”

It has not really turned out like that, despite her husband’s earnings as a successful photographer. “I never thought we would be struggling in the way that we are, for every little thing. We do get to do some of the nice things, but not without some kind of anguish. We can no longer afford to go away. Our main summer holiday is five days in Mallorca in the half-term, when the prices are lower.”

She agrees that she still leads a “privileged life”. So why is she struggling to educate her two children privately? It is easy to disapprove of middle-class parents who balk at the prospect of sending their children to the school they have been allocated, until it comes to your own children and their welfare — which explains the stressful competition for places in “good” schools, especially perhaps where Deborah lives in London.

The allocated state school offered to put her son on the “gifted children” programme just because he could spell a couple of three-letter words at the age of five, she said. It made her absolutely determined not to take up the offer, but the decision costs money. A lot of it.

She describes how she and her husband have stopped paying into a pension in the struggle to keep paying the fees in dribs and drabs. “They’re not even instalments; they are kind of random instalments — here’s another £800 to go in the pot. We have already spent £100,000 in school fees, and my kids are only seven and nine, and they are in the cheapest private school in this area.”

Only 7% of UK parents pay school fees (much the same as it was a generation ago, though 17% of school places in London are private). The fees at secondary level are beyond all but the very highest-paid, but scholarships and other assisted places are much more available than they used to be. Yet there is something else implied in the conversation with Deborah that is important.

It is the fear that this has nothing to do with the temporary economic downturn, and that there is a fundamental shift going on that marks the slow decline of the middle classes as an identifiable segment of British life — the end, not so much of privilege, but of what the middle classes believe they stand for: education, culture, leadership.

The fear is that this generation will be the last to live the aspirational middle-class life, that the future will be an endless, heartbreaking succession of small shifts downwards towards a precarious existence, dependent on mean employers, short contracts, demanding landlords and state handouts in old age.

“All my friends are struggling,” Deborah adds, and again she is not alone. Two-thirds of middle-income people in the UK are not saving for a pension. Half of them also struggle with bills every day, but the unease goes deeper than paying the bills in the middle of a global downturn.

The middle classes find it hard to articulate it even to themselves, but the truth is that they can no longer afford the life they always imagined having. It is not that they are greedy or want something for nothing. But they did assume, because that is what they were always told, that they would have a life like their parents and grandparents — a comfortable home, a respected professional position and good schools for their children.

They now willingly submit to a quarter of a century of mortgage discipline — in jobs that frustrate them and force them to buy expensive childcare — just to pay hugely inflated house prices.

And no matter how much they earn, there is a banker’s bonus somewhere that makes their effort look ridiculous. Worse, they seem unlikely to be able to fund their own retirement, except by the very house-price inflation that will exclude their children from the housing market.

Moanranger Mon 22-Apr-13 23:49:31

Thing is, when my kids were younger, friends who really wanted to send kids to independent schools did without certain things - holidays abroad, expensive re-decoration, etc. we decided to keep our kids ( mainly) in state schools so that we could have nice holidays, fix up house, have nice meals out. So these trade offs aren't anything new or recession related. These is a story to tell on the squeezed middle, but this ain't it!

limitedperiodonly Mon 22-Apr-13 12:18:38

My point is that the sorts of people who want to spend money they don't have on school fees aren't usually put in the same boat as people who do the same with Sky.

They are, just on a grander scale.

givemeaclue Mon 22-Apr-13 11:43:30

School fees cost a lot more than sky surely? I have neither but would be surprised if they were the same price

limitedperiodonly Mon 22-Apr-13 09:50:14

Some people and newspapers think school fees are more worthy than a subscription to Sky when both of them are luxuries. If you can't afford them it's a shame but not the end of the world.

givemeaclue Mon 22-Apr-13 09:38:36

Yes it was irritating, kids were at expensive schools from primary. As the article itself said, only 7% of population are in private schools so its hardly the middle class norm. Also they lived in a £900k house. They had an expectatio that they somehow deserved this lifestyle. In fact they wanted the expensive house, schools, holidays etc but couldn't afford them. Like most people!

Serious sense of entitlement.

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 22-Apr-13 09:29:40

I heard something similar on the radio just prior to the Budget. A SAHM in Hexham (I think it was) was trying to make the point that it wasn't easy managing on one salary and felt discriminated against. It would have been a stronger argument if she hadn't gone on to say that her DH's salary was well into six figures!! Given that she was in the NE she didn't even have the 'high cost of living' fall-back.

Moanranger Mon 22-Apr-13 00:21:23

I started reading this as the topic rang a few bells with me - all commodity prices going up, pay rises non-existent and jobs scarce- causing us all to penny-pinch.
I stopped reading it when the "struggling middle class woman" described sending both children to fee paying schools....hmmm

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