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Dave Beans

Big Homes, Nice Cars, Luxury Holidays... What Their Friends Don’T Know Is That They’Re Britain's New Middle Class Poor

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1300120/Big-homes-nice-cars-luxury-holidays--friends-don-t-know-Britains-new-MIDDLE-CLASS-POOR.html

As I walk down London’s Westbourne Grove, it suddenly hits me. The world looks the same, but my life as it was a decade ago is over. Around me, well-dressed women are happily chatting in restaurants and cafes, their shopping nestling safely at their elegantly shod feet, next to their designer handbags.

Less than ten years ago, that was me, but today it’s like peering through a window in my past. Like so many middle-class people, I slid into poverty when fees for my work froze or plummeted and the cost of living soared.

I am currently one of thousands of middle-class paupers out there putting on a brave face and pretending nothing has changed when, in fact, beneath the glossy varnish of the facade, our entire way of life is crumbling under the crushing pressure of the credit crunch. Perhaps those same smug-looking women lunching in Westbourne Grove are secretly dreading that sickening moment when the bill arrives, too ashamed to admit they can’t afford to pay it. Five years ago, I worked in film and was earning £1,200 a week.

My partner and I started a new business and we borrowed and borrowed and bought a country house alongside the two we owned between us in London. We practically rebuilt it while I fussed over the kitchen, oohing and aahing over Farrow & Ball paint and butler sinks. We moved to the Cotswolds and I even bought another cottage as an ‘investment’. What hubris!

When the recession hit, we realised the value of our properties had slumped and we were largely in negative equity. We had to rearrange our lives totally.

'Some of us still have bags of money, some of us can’t afford to take a cab home. But on the surface, we all look the same'

Now, I live in a two-bedroom rented flat in West London. What I can earn by writing making the occasional short film brings in just enough to cover the rent. For many articles I write, I earn no more than £250 and often struggle to make £500 a week — just over what my rent is. But, superficially, my habits remain the same: I go to parties, eat at restaurants when my friends invite me, and pray they don’t ask me to go Dutch. It is rather ironic that a favourite middle-class pastime is to moan about the cost of mortgage, school fees and domestic help, but the minute we really can’t pay them, we clam up.

When alcoholics stop drinking, they tell everyone they’re on the wagon and avoid their boozier friends. When we stop being able to pay, do we shun our wealthier friends?

No, we cling to our old haunts and habits, preferring to go without food at home rather than admit to a friend we can’t afford their trendy organic cafe of choice for lunch.

We think nothing of donning a dress that once cost the earth to attend a glamorous party or a restaurant opening. We sip our champagne and move easily among the same old circle of friends, chatting away about what we’re up to. In reality, a vast chasm yawns between us and, well … us. Some of us still have bags of money, some of us can’t afford to take a cab home. But on the surface, we all look the same.

It’s as if thousands of middle-class people are dangling in mid-air, legs waving. We’ve been ejected from our old lives, but we’re desperately resisting hitting the ground with a splat.

Deborah Risbridger, 45, has run her own PR consultancy, DRA Public Relations, for more than 20 years. She lives with husband Paul, 46, and their three children under ten. Like me, the Risbridgers came of age in the Eighties.

‘Paul and I are Thatcher’s children,’ Deborah says. ‘Like many of that generation, we believed everything we touched would turn to gold and for the first ten or 15 years it did.

‘We had a phenomenal couple of years, our earnings were rocketing and naively we believed it would go on for ever. It wasn’t enough income to describe ourselves as wealthy, but what it did was unleash our ability to borrow.’

And borrow they did. Over time and on credit, the Risbridgers acquired all the trimmings of success: a five-bedroom house in Buckinghamshire, with an Aga, bespoke kitchen and wet room, surrounded by 15 acres with stables and 14 horses.

A top-of-the-range Audi as well as a Range Rover sat on the drive. Their two children were privately educated and they holidayed in the Caribbean and Dubai. By 2006 their incomes had dropped, but their outgoings hadn’t. To add to the problem, their properties were all heavily mortgaged, with little or no equity remaining.

With another child on the way, they didn’t want to worry their families. ‘We did all we could to keep the charade going,’ says Deborah, though they were frantically selling their cars and cashing in their endowment policies and pensions.

‘There was definitely a sense of shame and I remember feeling that I’d failed in some way. If I didn’t have the material wealth or the ability to borrow money, then who the hell was I?

‘I hate to admit it, but I think there was an element of saving face. Being secretly poor but having this outwardly wealthy lifestyle took its toll on my mental health and, in 2007, I had a nervous breakdown.’

I sympathise with Deborah’s sense of shame and failure. When a friend invited me and my daughter to Scotland for the weekend recently, I accepted before I looked into what it would cost for the two of us to fly there and hire a car. I couldn’t afford it. Five years ago, I’d have spanked my credit card, but I don’t use one any more. Like Deborah, I was squeamish about telling the truth, fearing I would be slamming a door on some magical inner sanctum. Yet I liked and trusted the group of friends going with me enough to be honest, and one of them treated me to the tickets. A year ago, I’d have been too proud to admit being short of cash, let alone accept it. None of us likes to lose face.

‘We kept our troubles from family and friends for a long time because we didn’t want to worry them, but also it was about keeping up appearances,’ says another mother, Susannah Mimms.

Like the Risbridgers, Susannah, 47, and her husband David appeared to have it all — a big house, smart cars, two children at private school, a full-time nanny and regular holidays. Their careers took off in the Noughties when they were earning over £250,000 between them. Then, in 2007, tenants in their buy-to-let property did a bunk without paying rent, leaving £30,000 worth of damage. Soon after, David was made redundant and their lives collapsed.

‘We kept our troubles from family and friends for a long time because we didn’t want to worry them, but also it was about keeping up appearances'

'We especially didn’t want the kids’ friends to treat them any differently because we were poor,’ says Susannah, ‘and most of them were from wealthy families. I can’t deny, either, that we’d got used to a certain lifestyle and that was very hard to let go of.

‘We managed to come to an arrangement with the school over the fees, we dressed well, we saw the same friends and acted as though we were still rich. By the end of last year, the stress of trying to repay our debts and hang on to our home proved too much.

‘Telling my parents was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because I felt like such a failure having to ask for financial help.’

Psychologist Oliver James, author of Affluenza and The Selfish Capitalist, puts our sense of shame down to the pressure we feel: ‘A Briton turning 20 in 1978 was actually more likely than one doing so in 1990 to achieve upward mobility through education.

‘Nonetheless, in today’s Big Brother/It Could Be You society, great swathes of the population believe they can become rich and famous, and that it is highly desirable to them.

‘This is most damaging of all — the ideology that material affluence is the key to fulfilment and open to anyone willing to work hard enough.’

If our worth as a person is judged only by our affluence, no wonder we are so scared of letting go. Like so many of us, I went through a period of fretting over petty details like blinds, kitchen surfaces and taps. The curtains in my current rented flat cost £6 a pair from IKEA and, as far as I know, no one thinks I’m a worse person for them. In many ways, the more we go back to basics the less anxious and happier we become: ‘Having material possessions brought pressure, stress and expectation, not enjoyment,’ agrees Deborah.

The Risbridgers now live in a modest cottage in Dorset, with their children at the local school. The big house, horses and smart cars are gone, yet Deborah continues:

‘We are so lucky now because we have so much — three healthy, thriving children, a comfortable and affordable home in beautiful countryside and a lovely circle of friends, many of whom we’ve discovered have been through the same financial hardship as us.

‘We will never borrow beyond our means again, but I’m grateful for the experience as it has made me a better person. Losing one of my dearest friends to cancer last year at 40 made any residual worrying about what we had “lost” seem rather pathetic.’

The Risbridgers have faced up to their situation and dealt with it, but they are the middle-class exception rather than the rule. On Mumsnet, the internet site for mothers, a 39-year-old calling herself ‘Skinters’ writes: ‘We have a lovely house filled with expensive furniture and nice clothes, but behind the scenes it’s horribly different.

‘We’re six months in arrears on our mortgage. We can’t sell because the bank have a charge on all the equity... it’s hand-to-mouth every month. And once or twice people have turned up on our door-step for their money.

‘Some days, I have only a few bits of change in my purse, I can’t buy myself a newspaper and I have to choose between toothpaste or toilet rolls in the supermarket.’

Skinters continues to describe how she’s feeding her children cheaply, aware they’re not eating as healthily as they used to. She has a car, but often can’t afford the petrol. She can’t even pay £50 for her children’s school uniform at ASDA.

‘And yet I’m sat here wearing an expensive pair of jeans, which were bought in happier times, and very expensive wedding and engagement rings,’ she says, ‘To look at me, no one would have a clue how desperate I feel inside.’

Skinters’ blog received 580 responses. Many women were in a similar situation and offered sympathy, which indicates a fundamental shift — who’d have thought that anyone would feel sorry for a university-educated woman sitting in a £600,000 house in designer jeans?

Chartered psychologist Dr. Jennifer Gomborone treats many patients at her Harley Street practice and finds that the recession has caused dreadful new anxieties over money for the upper and middle classes.

‘I’m dealing with a vast number of professional people who have had to cope with major changes and haven’t known how to go home and tell their families that they can’t provide,’ she says.

‘It is excruciatingly painful for them. It’s not living on the streets, but it’s their version of skid row.’

Sylvie Beart, 46, is a member of Debtors Anonymous and has been attending meetings near Tottenham Court Road in central London for two years. She has seen her group expand from eight people to between 20 and 30. She describes herself as middle class. ‘It’s just been so acceptable to live on credit in this society,’ she says.

‘The lure of the credit card means so many people live in the red and our fellowship has become stronger and stronger as people’s lives unravel because of it. It’s important we all start to see that living with huge debt is not an acceptable way of life — there’s another way.’

It’s time for many of us to take a deep breath and admit we have a seriously problem.

One of my best friends, a highflying career woman, has already attended Debtors Anonymous but is still finding it hard to face the harrowing truth that there will be no more nice clothes or well-appointed central London flat in the future.

I know I have not yet had the courage to work out the exact discrepancy between the cost of my current lifestyle (albeit much more modest than before) and my income. It’s far too scary but, unless I do, my problem is only going to grow. It’s time to hit the ground with a splat. Only then can we pick up the pieces and move on.

Edited by Dave Beans

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How anybody can read the mail is beyond me. How anybody can can read the mail and think that what they are reading is journalism, is beyond me. How anybody can read the Mail and think that what they are reading is journalism, and believe what it says, is beyond me.

All down the long years that I can recall coming into contact with the mail, discarded on toilet floors, wrapped around chips, stuffed somewhere to stop the draft blowing, or forming the lower layer of kitty's tray, it printed the same utter drivel. Those functions that I just mentioned for the DM are actually a cut above the general level of usefulness of this tissue. Its not a paper, its a propaganda machine.

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How anybody can read the mail is beyond me. How anybody can can read the mail and think that what they are reading is journalism, is beyond me. How anybody can read the Mail and think that what they are reading is journalism, and believe what it says, is beyond me.

All down the long years that I can recall coming into contact with the mail, discarded on toilet floors, wrapped around chips, stuffed somewhere to stop the draft blowing, or forming the lower layer of kitty's tray, it printed the same utter drivel. Those functions that I just mentioned for the DM are actually a cut above the general level of usefulness of this tissue. Its not a paper, its a propaganda machine.

That deserves a big LOL: :lol: Spot on.

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How anybody can read the mail is beyond me.

While I wouldn't want to defend mail readers (shudder), seeing that post from an HPC-reader brings glasshouses to mind.

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It's ALL the papers but that particular article is just blatantly taking the michael and rubbing salt in to all levels except the very very rich and super rich including the papers owners and sponsors.

....people feeling sorry for the woman in the £600,000 house and wearing designer jeans.... :lol::lol:

Mind you to be fair £600,000 doesn't get you much in the way of housing these days especially in London even though it sounds a huge amount of money - which it is and it's a frightening amount of debt, although there's always bankruptcy.

Poor old Skinters and having to shop at Asda - oh dear :lol::lol:

It does highlight how completely insane UK house prices are and how generally impoverishing the policy is except of course again for the extremely well off and super rich.

The lightweight article with its underlying flippancy taking the michael as it does substitutes for a serious, heavyweight, accurate and informed criticism of housing policy and its real consequences on peoples lives which is likely to be unacceptable to the VIs.

Edited by billybong

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There isn't enough anxiety out there amongst these middle class fools when house prices have hardly budged downwards yet.

'Some days, I have only a few bits of change in my purse, I can't buy myself a newspaper and I have to choose between toothpaste or toilet rolls in the supermarket.'

The Mumsnet thread they've quoted from was the same Mumsnet thread which got flagged up for discussion at HPC three weeks ago.

Poor woman is clearly confused. She should get a newspaper and use it to wipe her indebted a r s e after she's read it. She could also rip small pieces off it that haven't got any print on, roll them into balls, moisten them and rub them up and down over her teeth. Not sure quite what the point would be but at least she could say 'I have cleaned my teeth'.

http://www.housepric...pic=147198&st=0

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Guest Noodle

What does this mean? Some of this middle class speak needs translation.

But, superficially, my habits remain the same: I go to parties, eat at restaurants when my friends invite me, and pray they don’t ask me to go Dutch.

:huh:

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What does this mean? Some of this middle class speak needs translation.

:huh:

You pay your way rather than one person picking up the tab. You must remember this: "Hey, I may have had the peshwari nan but they had the king prawn biryani. That costs loads more."

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You pay your way rather than one person picking up the tab. You must remember this: "Hey, I may have had the peshwari nan but they had the king prawn biryani. That costs loads more."

Oh.

She best get down the chipper every other Saturday for the treat.

Britain will be a much happier place once it's found it's level.

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You pay your way rather than one person picking up the tab. You must remember this: "Hey, I may have had the peshwari nan but they had the king prawn biryani. That costs loads more."

how vulgar :lol: even the UK middle class have no class any more, we're all doomed i tell thee

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It's some sad old carry on this. Blimey!

And borrow they did. Over time and on credit, the Risbridgers acquired all the trimmings of success: a five-bedroom house in Buckinghamshire, with an Aga, bespoke kitchen and wet room, surrounded by 15 acres with stables and 14 horses.

A top-of-the-range Audi as well as a Range Rover sat on the drive. Their two children were privately educated and they holidayed in the Caribbean and Dubai.

By 2006 their incomes had dropped, but their outgoings hadn’t. To add to the problem, their properties were all heavily mortgaged, with little or no equity remaining.

With another child on the way, they didn’t want to worry their families. ‘We did all we could to keep the charade going,’ says Deborah, though they were frantically selling their cars and cashing in their endowment policies and pensions.

‘There was definitely a sense of shame and I remember feeling that I’d failed in some way. If I didn’t have the material wealth or the ability to borrow money, then who the hell was I?

‘I hate to admit it, but I think there was an element of saving face. Being secretly poor but having this outwardly wealthy lifestyle took its toll on my mental health and, in 2007, I had a nervous breakdown.’

"He who will not economize will have to agonize." Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)

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Guest Noodle

Couldn't agree more,

It's also a funny thing how it all adds up.

Old woman was agitated recently when I bought a mountain bike for the village instead of a new scooter. So I laid out the cost savings.

MTB cost, 15,000

Maintenance a year, 500

Fuel cost, zero

Should last 5 years

Residual value, 1500

Cost for 5 years, 16,000

Scooter cost, 46,000

Maintenance a year inc tax etc, 3000

Fuel cost, 300x52, 15,600 (at current $80bbl)

Should last 5 years (but wouldn't with her using it)

Residual value, 10,000

Cost for 5 years, 126,000.

Saving . . . 110,000 or 22,000 a year.

110,000 buys 4 rai (6400m2) of rice paddy.

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It's also a funny thing how it all adds up.

Old woman was agitated recently when I bought a mountain bike for the village instead of a new scooter. So I laid out the cost savings.

MTB cost, 15,000

Maintenance a year, 500

Fuel cost, zero

Should last 5 years

Residual value, 1500

Cost for 5 years, 16,000

Scooter cost, 46,000

Maintenance a year inc tax etc, 3000

Fuel cost, 300x52, 15,600 (at current $80bbl)

Should last 5 years (but wouldn't with her using it)

Residual value, 10,000

Cost for 5 years, 126,000.

Saving . . . 110,000 or 22,000 a year.

110,000 buys 4 rai (6400m2) of rice paddy.

I think her concern is having to pedal it rather than with economising with your money. When does the job start?

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How anybody can read the mail is beyond me. How anybody can can read the mail and think that what they are reading is journalism, is beyond me. How anybody can read the Mail and think that what they are reading is journalism, and believe what it says, is beyond me.

All down the long years that I can recall coming into contact with the mail, discarded on toilet floors, wrapped around chips, stuffed somewhere to stop the draft blowing, or forming the lower layer of kitty's tray, it printed the same utter drivel. Those functions that I just mentioned for the DM are actually a cut above the general level of usefulness of this tissue. Its not a paper, its a propaganda machine.

+1

These sort of articles are such a wind-up, this champagne party, lunching out, private education, acres with horses etc have never ever represented the average middle classe lifestyle, and most of the MC (without housing benefit) could not even afford the £500 a week flat place which is supposed to be where she's COME DOWN to, i.e you're poor when you can't even pay >2000pm rent. Total and utter cr@p, but you read these articles in the DM and they just have to be tongue-in-cheek. Wonder how many DM readers have a full-time nanny...

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Guest Noodle

I think her concern is having to pedal it rather than with economising with your money. When does the job start?

It's only peddling round the village, it's flat.

No work coming in. Door nail dead.

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Oh.

She best get down the chipper every other Saturday for the treat.

Britain will be a much happier place once it's found it's level.

There's a lot of contempt on here for these people which I agree with IRO outgoings - structurally too high and sustained too long after their personal downturns.

What I do have some sympathy for is their problems on the income side. What warning indicators did they have to react to that their incomes might fall to this extent and not recover at all?

In previous downturns, people near the top of the earnings ladder would drop a rung or 2 and the poorest would be kicked off the bottom so an exec. on £200k now might have expected to find another job at maybe half that fairly quickly and start to rebuild from there.

This time some of these people are plunging to the bottom below people with poorer skills and connections and staying there.

Did anyone on here foresee this? Did anyone foresee this? Is there a novel economic process occuring that will only be fully understandable looking back from 5-10 years time?

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There's a lot of contempt on here for these people which I agree with IRO outgoings - structurally too high and sustained too long after their personal downturns.

What I do have some sympathy for is their problems on the income side. What warning indicators did they have to react to that their incomes might fall to this extent and not recover at all?

In previous downturns, people near the top of the earnings ladder would drop a rung or 2 and the poorest would be kicked off the bottom so an exec. on £200k now might have expected to find another job at maybe half that fairly quickly and start to rebuild from there.

This time some of these people are plunging to the bottom below people with poorer skills and connections and staying there.

Did anyone on here foresee this? Did anyone foresee this? Is there a novel economic process occuring that will only be fully understandable looking back from 5-10 years time?

I told the MD of a firm I worked for in early 2007 what was coming. He wouldn't go for it. Next up were the big offices, huge overheads, Lexus . . . .

Phone call late last year "This isn't a recession, it's a depression!"

All laid off now, no work, no income. He's ill now too. Which is a shame because he's a top bloke.

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+1

These sort of articles are such a wind-up, this champagne party, lunching out, private education, acres with horses etc have never ever represented the average middle classe lifestyle, and most of the MC (without housing benefit) could not even afford the £500 a week flat place which is supposed to be where she's COME DOWN to, i.e you're poor when you can't even pay >2000pm rent. Total and utter cr@p, but you read these articles in the DM and they just have to be tongue-in-cheek. Wonder how many DM readers have a full-time nanny...

It does seem a wee bit extreme.

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+1

These sort of articles are such a wind-up, this champagne party, lunching out, private education, acres with horses etc have never ever represented the average middle classe lifestyle, and most of the MC (without housing benefit) could not even afford the £500 a week flat place which is supposed to be where she's COME DOWN to, i.e you're poor when you can't even pay >2000pm rent. Total and utter cr@p, but you read these articles in the DM and they just have to be tongue-in-cheek. Wonder how many DM readers have a full-time nanny...

Well I know a few people with mortgaged country houses with land, who own several horses, 1 paid £40,000 to subsidise his daughters Pilot training, and suchlike.

There are plenty of people with £200k+ household incomes who spend most of it*. Their lives are just magnified versions of people with £75-100k incomes. I don't understand why people think this a wind up.

I do find it a bit surprising that these folk managed to end up with no equity in their properties - can't have been MEWing with such high incomes - no need.

*Usually including regular investments and a huge repayment mortgage which is a kind of saving.

Edited by xux42

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Well I know a few people with mortgaged country houses with land, who own several horses, 1 paid £40,000 to subsidise his daughters Pilot training, and suchlike.

There are plenty of people with £200k+ household incomes who spend most of it*. Their lives are just magnified versions of people with £75-100k incomes. I don't understand why people think this a wind up.

I do find it a bit surprising that these folk managed to end up with no equity in their properties - can't have been MEWing with such high incomes - no need.

*Usually including regular investments and a huge repayment mortgage which is a kind of saving.

Look at my silly (but real) bicycle or scooter example. Now substitute bicycle for Renault Clio and scooter for Range Rover. Goes for everything in life.

It's easy to see how they get through it. Also, were these £200k household incomes pre-tax gross or net?

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What is this thing called Debt? I have no knowledge of it. Is it something I should want? Am I missing out?

As for me, I've always dressed in rags / cheap clothes and always lived within my means. I'm facing redundancy soon and may be on the dole / work half the hours. Costed everything up and either way we can maintain the same lifestyle.

No sympathy for the woman. Welcome to real life.

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  • 259 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?


      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%



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