There but for…


Is it good luck or is it good planning? A combination of the two I’d guess but either way I know I’m in a very fortunate position (for someone out of work that is).

I bought my house as a wreck many years ago when houses were actually affordable if you were prepared to take on some work (happy days). With no furniture and a low income at the time I lived with just an old bed, a tatty MFI wardrobe, and some plastic patio furniture in the dining room, nothing else. Gradually I did it up bit by slow laborious bit (And God knows it needed doing up, it’d been previously occupied by the British Olympic Relay Smoking Team and they’d been practicing hard in there. A gold was in the bag for sure, provided they could wheeze their way on to the top step of the podium).

Then as income and bonuses increased and allowed, I furnished it the old fashioned way, as and when I could afford it rather than a quick re-mortgage for a quick fix and a new sofa I’d be paying off for the next twenty years.

As business began to slow from 2005 onward (don’t let anyone tell you the recession started in 2008, that was merely when it went mainstream) I started piling every spare penny I had into the mortgage. I could feel the ill wind of economic change starting to ruffle gently at my tail feathers even then and I was determined not to be blown away should it become a hurricane.

And at the end of last year following a desperate final concerted effort I finally cleared the mortgage. Nothing in the bank but nothing owing either. And when the axe fell in March I felt I’d done all I possibly could to prepare for it. My meagre redundancy and three months pay in lieu (twenty years of loyalty was rewarded with the absolute minimum the company could legally get away with paying me) at least provided me with enough for a secondhand car and a few grand in the bank. Ironically, in fact, at that very point I was actually wealthier than I’d ever been in my entire life. Apart from that unfortunate no income thing.

But as I lie there some nights in the old bed that I own, staring up at the ceiling that I own, I think about my situation, and the fact that even given my fairly parsimonious nature and ultra streamlined finances I don’t have enough coming in to actually live on. And my thoughts turn to those less fortunate. The guy who wasn’t able to buy when property was (relatively) cheap, the chap who doesn’t earn enough to even begin to think of clearing his mortgage. The family with the credit cards and the car loan and the overdraft, the worker who’s not been at his job long enough to build up a reasonable redundancy pay off or earned enough to create a financial safety cushion.

Just what the hell do they do when that axe falls? It doesn’t bear thinking about but there must be tens, no, hundreds of thousands that have no option but to think of nothing else. Think about what they’re going to do at the end of their month when the mortgage and the car loan and the card payments and the utility bills and the grocery shop flood out of the current account in a giant fiscal tidal wave but there’s nothing there to cover it bar £64/week JSA. It makes my blood run cold.

The average household debt excluding the mortgage for households that have debt in this country is over twenty one thousand pounds. That’s every house on every street of every town in every county that has debt, averaged out across them all.

We’re passed 2.3 million unemployed in this country now, and rising. Over quarter of a million people were made unemployed in the first three months of 2009 alone. Chances of walking straight into another job are minuscule. Forget Swine Flu, this is the real pandemic gripping the country.

As I drift off to sleep I spare a thought for those poor souls who’ll be staring up at their mortgaged ceilings in their financed beds all sleepless night just wondering what the bloody hell they’re going to do. Because I sure as hell don’t have an answer for them.

There but for the grace of God…


2 Responses to “There but for…”

  1. Colonel Panic Says:

    For most people the recession starts when they lose their job and finishes when they get another one. I was working in the retail industry in 2005 and I remember store owners grumbling about low footfall back then – they were told that this is how its going to be for some time to come. Many of them sold up and left the industry for good.

    Don’t worry about the chap who didn’t buy a house (like me) cheaply by the way. In the meantime, while the rest of the country was buying and selling overpriced houses, he’s saved up a lot of money and currently pays a reduced (renegotiated) rent. In the current freefall housing market, it’s just a waiting game …

  2. Al Says:

    It seems to me that the ‘have now, pay later’ culture that has developed over at least a decade is being compounded by government policy.

    Take for example higher education – what does the current government do to engender loyalty amongst graduates? Charges fees, encourages substantial borrowing, creates an expectation for young people that university is not an aspiration but a right, and then wonders what steps to take when there are 48 new graduates for every graduate level job this summer.

    Is it any wonder that working abroad looks attractive? In Britain, how can young people, graduates or otherwise hope to reach the dizzy heights of the housing ladder, when house prices are so many multiples of a starting salary? We need some brave policy makers to begin to take steps to reverse this trend… any ideas of where we go from here?

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