Succumbing to Winter.

17th October – the day I succumbed to winter and switched on my central heating. I am quite frugal when it comes to the essentials, odd I know, which is why I have waited for DH to start moaning before the big switch on. Men usually keep their moans to themselves, so this was a sure sign that it is pretty damn cold.

Sitting with one layer of clothing on, in a room that appears to be quite toasty, is an unusual but pleasant feeling for me. I feel slightly naked without a jumper and my trousers tucked into my socks. I know this won’t last long as the warmth will dissipate as the cold sets in for the night. I have timed the heating to only last a few hours in the mornings and evenings, which leaves a large chunk of the day particularly chilling.

I refuse to have the heating on during the day in fear of the cost of our bills, even on the weekends. I know they won’t be nearly as extortionate as our old flat (no gas, pure electricity) where we had to pay £150 a month direct debit, which barely chipped away at our overall bill. But of course I still worry with the rising cost of everything nowadays.

David Cameron’s pathetic attempt to ‘urge households to cut their energy bills‘ illustrates exactly how out of touch his government is with reality. I do not own my home, therefore I have no control over the insulation, the type of boiler I use or my energy provider, and I already pay my bills by direct debit; what more would you suggest for me, Mr Cameron? It is not a leaflet with top tips on how to save money that would help households, but actually taking control and stopping the ridiculous rate of inflation.

I have grown tiresome of forking out way more than the rate of inflation for petrol, food, transport, rent, energy and childcare. Squeezed middle? What a fucking understatement.

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The Luxuries in Life.

The costly expense of childcare and how many families are suffering as a result, hit our screens as breaking news last week. I did not need a study and some arbitrary statistic to tell me sending DS to nursery is expensive, I just have to review my finances.

This is hardly breaking news; I could have told you last week, last month and I can tell you today, that families are feeling the crunch. There were once a time when being a housewife and a kept woman was seen as a privilege. You did not need to work because your husband could support the family on a single income, so you would spend your days shopping, baking cakes and reading classic stories to the children. You would consider yourself as lucky to be in such a position and dismiss the world accordingly for an afternoon episode of Loose Women.

Nowadays, being a housewife is probably cheaper on the whole for families. It is ludicrous to think the expense of working makes getting a job not worthwhile; surely having a duel income should better your family financially, rather than be a hinderance? Childcare has become a luxury and exclusive to those families who can pay.

The Guardian states, ‘for four out of 10 families the cost of childcare is on a par with mortgage or rent payments’; on par is probably your limits, because you would not pay more for childcare than the cost of your home. But the reality is, if DS was to attend nursery full-time five days a week, it would set us back £835 a month. The average cost of a two bedroom property in Gravesend is somewhere between £650 – £800 a month, do the math. Fortunately DS only goes to nursery three days a week, but the cost is still excessively high for not much return.

The cost of a commute (be it trains or topping up on petrol) has drastically risen over the past few years, coupled with the increase in rent/mortgage repayments, electricity, food, childcare, the list goes on. With stagnant salaries, low wages and pay freezes, how is the average family going to survive in the long-run, Mr Cameron?

Your Revolution is a Joke.

I remember a few months ago watching Aljazeera news with a slice of toast, observing the riots spread across Syria, Egypt, Jordan and many other African countries, unaware and unfazed; it was not that I did not care, but as an outsider watching events unfold felt very surreal. I turned to DH and said, “I can’t imagine this would ever happen in this country, the British just moan and move on”.

Make sure you stock up on that basmati rice; not that you understand Mr Prole, but as you loot, the market is crashing. This will probably cost more in the future.

Of course the riots over the past few days in London are nothing by comparison, they are malicious, unmotivated and undoubtedly disgraceful. Watching the news this time was not a surreal experience, it was very real, it was 40 odd miles away. I have been obsessively checking various newspaper websites, Facebook and BBC News 24 is continuously in the background to ensure I do not miss out on anything significant. I spent the majority of yesterday in a constant state of panic as DH insisted on going to work. Luckily I was just paranoid and nothing actually happened, I would hate to be proved right.

These teens from deprived areas of London speak of ‘fighting back’ against the government and the ‘rich’, however there is no substance in their cause. They are children and do not fully understand why they are angry, blaming others for their despicable behaviour and joining in with their fellow criminal chums. Although increasing police numbers on the street last night proved a success in London, I fear as we move into next week and the streets are left unsupervised, hell will break loose again. These children have the idea planted in their heads after the Tottenham incident, but why do they think it is now acceptable to burn down buildings and terrorise local residents? Nothing has changed, this could have been done last week, last month, last year.

We all live by a mutual agreement set by society and its norms. I do not burn cars, steal or create social disorder because by being a part of this society I have agreed not to. There is nothing physically stopping me from doing these things but I understand right from wrong. The problem we have with these degenerates, is that they live in a society that does not encourage these norms. Written across the television last night the BBC advised parents to keep their children at home; what makes you think the parents are not cheering them on? These children behave in this way because of their upbringing and their surroundings. Who better to teach them the tricks of the trade than their beloved parents.

I am angered, upset and disgusted by the events in London, which have spread like a pandemic all over the country. These youths have no understanding of the consequences of their actions, nor do they care. They cannot be fully blamed because they have been conditioned to behave this way, however this is no justification. If we did not have such a corrupt government, I would probably support Marx’s idea to remove parental responsibility and allow children to be raised by the state. Maybe we should just enforce this on the proletariat, the rest of us are doing okay.

A Let Down.

I have rented five properties thus far, each with different landlords/letting agencies. I would like to think I am a pro at renting now, however there seems to be a lesson to be learnt each time. As we have now fully received our deposit back, I thought I would share my experience of Heritage House and enlighten/warn any future renters.

Our previous apartment in Canterbury was a charm when we first moved in December 2009. DS was only three weeks old then and we had mould issues at our previous flat (which Connells did nothing about) so we had to lose a month’s rent and move into a new property promptly. Because we were moving at an unusual time of year, we managed to haggle our rent down from £700 to £630 a month. This was such a good price for a two bedroom city centre apartment with Whitefriars shopping centre literally seconds away.

The first 10 months of our tenancy was perfect. The lady who initially dealt with our property from Regal Estates was friendly and eager to help. She had empathised with our need for privacy, with a lack of curtains and being on the ground floor, she took our situation and made it her own. She convinced the landlord to pay for our curtains, on the condition that we chose them and DH would install the curtain poles in each room.

 

She stopped working for Regal not long before the renewal of our tenancy. There was an interim period where we were passed to various administrators and our emails were lost in transition. This is around the time the cistern in the toilet broke and was leaking water. Concerned that our water bills would increase, we contacted Regal on several occasions to alert them of the issue, however this came to no avail. They eventually called a plumber months after we initially emailed them, who did not fix the situation. Many correspondences and visits from the plumber later, our cistern was finally fixed 6 months down the line.

This issue did not end there. Our fresh water and waste water bills arrived soon after, which both had doubled in cost from the same period as the previous year. We raised this issue with Regal, highlighting the section of the tenancy which states the landlord should be liable for any cost incurred by the tenant, due to a fault in which the landlord did not rectify within a reasonable time frame. This was dismissed as they counteracted our claim with their ‘professional’ advice from a plumber, who had spent only five minutes reviewing the toilet. They said we may have had more showers, increased our usage of the washing machine or had more dirty dishes to clean, owing to the fact we have a growing baby. I did not appreciate this attempt to use my baby to subside the issue.

During this meeting I had with the manager of Regal, the new lady who took over my property sat there quietly, almost cowering behind her boss. I spoke off-topic and asked whether it would be possible to have a rolling contract when it came to renew again, to which she responded,

“I am not sure, I would need to ask the landlord. I see you have previously paid 3 months rent up front, I’m not sure if that was because you came from a foreign country?”

Funnily enough, speaking with clear diction in an English accent, I am not a foreigner. I did email this manager later on in complaint of her rude ignorance, incompetence and lack of customer service. Unsurprisingly, she did not respond.

After this occasion, we decided to seek the ‘professional advice’ they were so keen on. South East Water check our external pipes and the toilet, to conclude that they are all in order and it was most probably the broken cistern which caused our overpriced bills. Despite this, Regal have not compensated us for their incompetence, nor have we received an apology.

The next issue we came across was when the lock on our front door broke. DH attempted to dismantle the lock to fix it, ignoring the fact that he is not a locksmith. To no ones surprise, he could not put the lock back together and we had to call Regal to resolve the situation. The locksmith came the following day and spent only a few minutes putting the pieces back together and fixed what had originally gone wrong. We later received a bill from Regal for £35, half of the overall bill, because DH had dismantled the lock. Regardless of DH’s naivety in thinking he could fix the damn thing, the locksmith would have needed to dismantle it anyway. His work was definitely not worth the total cost of the bill. Lesson for the future: If something breaks, do not bother trying to resolve the issue yourself.

I find this whole experience with Regal shocking and cruel. It is despicable how more measures are not made to protect tenants; the tenancy appears to be solely made to safeguard landlords, who have no qualms in manipulating you for your money. I do hope that enough pressure is put on the government to rectify this, as it seems the demand for rental properties are soaring.

Who benefits?

So the Tories strike again; universal Child Benefit is to be abolished. I do not earn enough to be effected, but regardless, I disapprove.

Today’s ‘Sunday Morning Live‘ posed an interesting question; 90% of viewers who voted, answered no to “should we pay for people to have kids?” Perhaps if the question were to be phrased “should parents receive money for their children’s basic amenities?” the results would have been different. The money received from Child Benefit is hardly enough to pay for a child beyond survival, so I do not understand the idea of people making money out of this particular benefit.

I would be less bothered about this issue if the government invested more money into getting people into work, rather than making cuts, forcing them into deprivation. What needs to happen is an evaluation of the benefit system in its entirety, not just segmented cuts which lead to more people losing out than necessary.

One particular area that should be focused on is the childcare element of Working Tax Credit. On the Directgov website you can find out who qualifies for this:

You’re a lone parent

If you’re a single parent you must work 16 hours or more a week to claim help with childcare costs.

You’re part of a couple

Generally you and your partner must both work 16 hours or more a week to claim help. Only one of you has to work 16 hours or more if one of you is:

  • ill or disabled and claiming disability benefits
  • in hospital
  • in prison – serving a custodial sentence or remanded in custody awaiting trial or sentence

The average working hours of a full-time employee (9-5 Monday to Friday) is around 37 hours, but as part of a couple, this person does not receive help for childcare. It seems that even when one works more than the requirement for two adults put together, the system does not acknowledge this.

My research came about when DS started nursery to enable me to work and DH to attend his lectures. The system does not acknowledge that DH being a student is also a full-time job, as well as looking after DS. The cost of childcare is ridiculous and luckily DS only needs to be there for two half days a week. But there are less fortunate families, at approximately £20 a half day and £30 a full day, how does one expect a low income family to afford childcare and go to work five days a week? A family with less aspirations in a similar situation as us may choose the easier option to work part-time at 16 hours a week, instead of full-time, because the benefit system is willing to accommodate this. Maybe if they offered less financial incentives to not work and aided those who chose to earn their own money, we would have a more self-sufficient society.

Making cuts in the benefit system only works when there are alternative implements to encourage people to work, otherwise it is just another means of taxing the poor.