We’re told we’re all going to have to change. We can no longer rely on credit; we need to downsize; we should pay more into our pensions; we need to move home; we need to work longer and we need to tighten our belts as the recession affects us all.
Oh, we also need to accept being downwardly mobile and give up the career we’ve enjoyed for decades to work in a call centre on minimum wage.
Many may remember only the boom times, the fun, the opening of the Tate Modern, the rise of the anti-globalisation movements, the fight against global warming, or just the lifestyle gadgets and compassionate careers.
So what now for those who defined themselves by their causes as much as their fitted-kitchens?
Of course, for some workers it was difficult throughout and we also saw the cruel humour of Little Britain, divisively mocking working class single parents – but people could take their lifestyles for granted and look to a relatively secure future.
It has been pointed out that this is the first time many unemployed have found themselves on benefits after years of sustained working.
Now those who could easily afford to define themselves by buying British, supporting local farmers, living by eco-friendly standards, supporting the Soil Association by purchasing organic produce will struggle to keep it up. All this stuff costs money. Those who strove for such social ideals may now feel they have too little in their bank accounts to do so.
It was often argued that ideology-based politics were a thing of the past and individual responsibility was where it was at – but you can’t share your outrage at the global economic recession by chaining yourself to a Natwest bank. Especially not if you’re outraged on the same day you’re due to sign on.
I also wonder what will happen to those living the dream in city centre apartments, already struggling to make ends meet just so that they can have a certain postcode. That sort of aspiration is unsustainable when you have a pile of final demands and debt-collectors at your door.
What of holidays? Cheap flights are becoming a thing of the past and we’re encouraged to enjoy ‘staycations. We can’t boast of our fortnight in the sun or pretend we’re reducing our global footprint when we’re grounded by economic circumstance.
Will the opinions of the likes of Jamie Oliver be lost as a nation decides to lock up rioting children rather than reduce their fat intake?
Affluenza as diagnosed by Oliver James could be cured and affluence need no longer make us miserable. As he said: “There is currently an epidemic of ‘affluenza’ throughout the world – an obsessive, envious, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses – that has resulted in huge increases in depression and anxiety among millions.”
I considered all this in the bath (while wondering how much gas it’d cost me) as I remembered my formerly relatively comfortable cash flow and my own affluenza. I never thought I’d struggle to afford train travel to interviews as I drove up and down the country for stories. I never thought I’d need benefits to pay my rent as I moved from city to city always finding work. And I never thought there would be no work for qualified, experienced journalists with some top tabloids on their CV.
The last time I was poor I lived alone in a back-street terrace with no central heating, in a northern town during winter, while working for press agencies. I earned less in a year than some MPs fiddled in a week but I still had enough to eat, still had enough to go for a drink with friends after work and would’ve been able to put the heating on had there been any. Jesus it was cold! Then I moved south and felt the warm glow of radiators and tabloid pay.
Of course, many people I met along the way will be living the same high life I witnessed from a distance: such as those who actually paid to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Al Bustan Palace Hotel in Muscat while I enjoyed a press trip, the MPs I interviewed who, although shocked by change, won’t be losing their homes, and the sort of people who bought their food shopping at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges while I got things I got for free.
On the whole things are changing for all of us. Us who work for a living. As we stare into the dark, soulless eyes of a double-dip recession I wonder how we will change as a people. I hope it’s for the better.
I know I’ve been on a learning curve while unemployed – I will never again take the luxury of a tin of Harry Ramsden’s mushy peas for granted.
What I have learned: The banks can take fees from your benefits. I got £15 (half) back after complaining to Nationwide, though, despite Job Centre Plus’ misinterpretation of the Social Security Act 1992
What else I have learned: Capital One credit card will call you relentlessly, early morning, late evening and on Sundays, even when you have sent them a Financial Statement Form as requested
I have also learned: If you keep complaining you can get some respite from some angry creditors. RBS credit card company is no longer threatening debt collection agencies and will accept £1 a month, having already suspended the interest on the account