Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Big Crunch

Wednesday 15th July, about 9pm. Saw the ad on the telly. Thought oi oi, how did we miss that?

Thursday 16th July about 9am – popped over to M's (M organises coach trips with a local farmer who has a couple of buses – Bridlington, Skegness, that sort of thing). She said short notice, but it could be done. Made flyer and posted to 32 houses with RSVP by end of the day and notice of planning meeting on Friday night. A few no's from people who'll be out, but some good yes's, notably J, who's a youth worker and a few of us have put posters up.

Friday 17th July about 6.30pm – another J popped over to say she'd bake cakes; D's on crispie cakes with the kids; youth worker J's sorted tables and decks; M has pop, cups and table cloths; N's asking K about BBQ and I'm off to Home Bargains tomorrow for as many hot dogs and prizes as I can buy for a tenner. Power cut at the pub with storms brewing – beer by candlelight - bliss!

Saturday 18th July about 9am – phone and lights back on, sun is out. Type, print and post another flyer with: where, when, sorted, needed and not. In town by 10.30am, to find: ten ice pops for 49p – grab two of those; eight hot dogs for 85p – grab five; 3 foil servers for 79p; ten mini Curly-Wurlys and ten Chupa Chups both for 69p. 13.30pm start the breadmaker for rolls. Bake 30.

Sunday 19th July about 10.30am. Go with P and J to fetch trestle tables and mixing decks. Never been to the old hall - built in 1552, sadly vandalised by kids. Back at the close we set up a horse shoe and pop over to M's for table cloths – pink and blue seersucker with a sheet for the gaps, just as my memory of '77 serves me. Typically, M empties her entire pantry of pop, cheddars and mini rolls – she reminds me of my Granny.

J starts with Bob Marley and I get the BBQ rolling, but ash from the fire pit starts to land on the hot dogs. Move BBQ, losing four sausages en route - enter Pooch, canine vaccum with midriff to match, who soon comes in handy, as the rain drives my ambitious sun block and the steaming hot smoke into my eyes. I'm soaked, and though too old, fat and now blind for the wet T-shirt competition I have become, the voices around me are happy.

Around 3pm, there's a brief interlude with chairs dry enough to sit on, so we play pass the parcel, musical statues and chairs – every child wins a lolly, chocolate or both. D's crispie cakes have the secret ingredient of golden syrup, makng them sticky, chewy and very very moreish... J's sponges are the fluffiest we've ever tasted, so everyone says hell to their diet today! By 4.30pm, we're tired and resolve to pack up. A couple of young'uns complain, but retire sheepishly indoors to carry on – White Lightening.

I'd gone to the pub to fetch the candlesticks, taken over on Friday night. I came home about 9pm to find my child amongst others being interviewed by police. The incident – a racially aggravated assault – saw no major injuries, but plenty of hurt, shock and disgust. I feel ashamed, don't want to write this – the potential for labelling ours a “sink estate” cuts to the quick. Why us, why here, and bugger any attempt at The Big Lunch next year. 

Monday 20th July, I cannot bring myself to Tweet or blog a word. I wash the table cloths, compile evidence for my benefit application (I wasn't going to divulge that either) and then think, NO! This is what I'm fighting for. Poverty does not need to hang its head in shame. Racism and drunken brawls are not exclusive to social housing. They raise their ugly head in fear, need and envy. We cannot kow-tow to that.

More than ever in recession, folk need to see a way forward; how to occupy and entertain themselves no matter how tight things are. Charity is not a fund to be distributed in prejudicial pigeon holes, but an action demanding reaction and interaction, for in participation thrives the innovation to truly #rebootbritain. 

Posted @ 08:55:46 on 21 July 2009

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Midnight Oil: Beds are Burning

The time has come
To say fairs fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A facts a fact
It belongs to them
Lets give it back

This track was the athem to my twenties – weekends passed with a crew of henchmen (hench Jimbo, Tombo, Mark, Al, Paul, Mary, Steve, Slimey et al), merrily intoxicated and happy. Suddenly, just now, the words came flooding back and, burning the midnight oil to have this site more widely recognised, I thought, hey, they're relevant. Shame I can't find the damned CD to play as I write this :-(.

[20.09.10 maybe we have the tech know how to paste the vid in?]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrjv2lc7Vx4?wmode=transparent]

It's been an interesting couple of days. At the weekend I decided to forego rampant Twittery to research my target market: NFPs, Third Sector – anyone and everyone who has the expertise and common ground to profligate my wares and make the very real savings to be made from living without credit more widely known, shared and discussed. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report “Poverty in the media” suggests, I'm unlikely to be the only one with experience of zero-credit.

My voice had been harsh and crass of late - many thanks to Dave Lee, Roy Zimmerhansl and Rob Dyson for pointing that out. Of course individuals are responsible for their borrowing, but do you make wise decisions when dependents are compromised by your misfortunes, miscalculations or errors? I didn't. Ironically, I don't yet seem to communicate the more pragmatic and empathetic approach to poverty and debt that I advocate because the money speaks volumes to me. This is why I opted for flashing pound signs and growing coin stacks on my home page – soon too be edited, when I psyche myself back into technical mode, I assure you. You see, my understanding is that far more of us are at risk of “going under” than we'd like to believe – goodness knows I've cited the statistic that 50% of us own 1% of wealth often enough. 

So pervasive is the stigma of poverty that I believe folk will do anything to hide it, making for an awful lot of people who live a lie, funded by inappropriate credit. I believe this, because by far the greatest part of my quasi-celebrity childhood was spent fabricating reasons why our family had not. People never think of opera singers as having not. In a photo taken for my father’s TV series to coincide with the launch of S4C (“Delme”), my mother is wearing a hideous skirt made from some off-cut my aunt had found on a market stall and I have an ill fitting T shirt. Only my brother pulls off our cheap skate fashions as something faintly artistic and quirky. A godsend, the art of Boho...

Did you know that the uptake of free school meals drops nigh on vertically at secondary school? It never surprised me, when I entered the teaching profession nine years ago. When Dad claimed benefits back in the eighties, in no way was he going to allow school to know that he was out of work – what, a performing artist not working? He must have lost his talent. Anyone in the know was already talking widely about his drinking, but the obituares never asked me about that. Nowadays such judgements are common place – we live in a performative society where everyone tries to keep up with the Joneses – Hey! I am a Jones – can you keep up with me, perhaps?

To see peer evaluation at its worst, try sending your kids to school with value yoghurt and a Lidl carrier in their packed lunch. Set a cat amongst the pigeoons in the playground by shouting “charity shop” on own clothes day – Oxfam is more foul mouthed than the “C” word, these days. Set in this context, what would you do to protect your child from bullying? And the situation is exasperated by the likes of David Kuo prevaricating on national television that some people will have no alternative but to turn to pay day loans: http://www.fool.co.uk/expert/money-talk/blog/257/the-truth-about-debt.aspx?terms=David+Kuo+pay+day . Ever heard of a Credit Union, Dave?

“Poverty in the Media” is right:

  • Poverty is generally under-reported in the media. If more people with experience of the everyday realities of poverty were given a voice in the media, this would enhance public understanding of poverty in the UK.
  • When journalists write stories about poverty they usually want case studies – people who can talk about their experience of living on a low income. This provides an important opportunity for people living in poverty to tell their stories.
  • Journalists often ask third sector (voluntary and community) organisations to help them find people to interview. These organisations need to support people who come forward to work with the media.
  • The internet provides new opportunities for self-expression. People can send emails, develop websites, write blogs and upload sound, stills and video clips.
  • Third sector organisations can provide people with access to internet technology, train people to use it effectively and host content on their websites.
  • An online audience could be developed by setting up a web portal to provide a reliable resource of material from people with experience of poverty. This would also be a focus for debate. A demonstration project with a specific community could test the potential of internet media to develop awareness of poverty issues.

I'm ready to do something about it. Are you?

Posted @ 11:53:02 on 14 July 2009

Friday, 10 July 2009

#adsensedebtsharks trend it to end it now

Okay, so I am not the most refined of Twitterati, a fearsome newbie and it'll take time for me to be sussed out... But bli-mey there are some awful cynics out there. Every follower invited and only a handful came (thanks for your DMs @Sylvarwolf and @30point2). Still, I am feeling inordinately frustrated.

I'm not so opinionated as to think I have the only answer, but I am opinionated enough to think that my ideas are relevant, pertinent and demand an audience and I shall most certainly keep Tweeting to that effect, however persona non grata I become.

I hate London. It is so glib. The other day, Monday was it, the elite were moaning about storms in the city and how the Commons was flooded and Stephen Fry (I do love him really) could not watch The Man in the Iron Mask? I could not teach a class of 30 kids – same last Friday too – several hours of precious learning time wasted because we persist in teaching kids in June and July, in searing heat and thunderous storms. Yet you would not have thought there had been thunder and lightening anywhere but London.

I am trying to set a trending topic that debt managers, claims companies, equity release, consoldation and payday loans companies should not be able to advertise so freely on the Internet: #adsensedebtsharks. It angers me that when you Google National Debtline, National Debt Helpline comes up at the top of the sponsored links. To me this is passing off and I don't think I'm wrong that this is an issue when kids quote Google as their source at A level - the vast majority of domestic internet users do not wholly understand sponsored links.

If #digitalbritain intends to create a fairer society then such trickery has to be stopped. I want all site owners using adsense and similar to block, lobby and prevent these charlatans from advertising next to content which those in financial difficulty may need. It's not rocket science. The ads on your site enjoy the cachet of your company's endorsement. And when they pay you peanuts anyway, what revenue will you lose? #adsensedebtsharks - trend it to end it now!

Posted @ 18:31:37 on 09 July 2009

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Budget 150

Hello! I'm sincerely hoping you are a new reader. Not that I've anything against old readers, but I am on a steep learning curve to have my message heard and I'm increasingly learning that I'm not the only one attempting to shout it – or a least a variation of it. I am SO #rebootbritain.

I had thought that “excluding home ownership, 50% of the UK population owns 1% of wealth” (source: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=2 ) was attention seeking enough, but it seems not. You see I've only just come across Oxfam's UK Poverty wing and a fascinating article printed in The Guardian on 13th March 2009: “Inequality: mother of all evils?”. 

If I had the technical know-how to get this blog to actually link to the urls that I type, you could read the article straight away - straight away would be my recommendation – because inherent in the bipolarity of wealth in this country is the distinct probabilty that per captia averages for spend and usage of consumer goods are twaddle - absolute and unmitigated twaddle.
[update 14.08.09 "I got the power" - so here's the link: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2009/03/13/inequality.pdf ]

In the meantime, if there any genuine offers to improve this site's interactivity, I'd be grateful – skint, unable to pay, but grateful. Teaching secondary school kids and being a mummy is somewhat preclusive to effecting the greatest social media marketing campaign that digital networks have ever seen, though I'm getting there thanks to: http://mashable.com  and http://www.squidoo.com . Sorry to anyone who finds me gauche or committing faux pas for asking.

I started writing Zero-credit about a year ago. I'd more than done my time on low incomes and knew just about every trick in the book to keep that well hidden when I needed to, but I've always hated the stigma of poverty. It dates back to being a teenager, when I blamed the opera world for forcing me to big up the gum boots and skirt made from curtain fabric that my folks gave me one Christmas. I had a pupil going through much the same thing last Spring – I guess supporting a child through that was much of the catalyst.

As a youngster, I used to fantasize about sending the black spot to opera houses that had turned my father down – you know, the pirates’ curse - the tragic armoury of magic and superstition all the more poignant in my helplessness. Now I think, why the hell should anyone be ashamed that they can't afford something? And, more pertinently, why oh why, are there so many people out there trying to extract money from poor people?

It's a big market poor people - a growth market too - and either I am totally paranoid and a conspiracy theorist to boot, or I am right that the wapping great 50% of us with naff all income and wealth are being lured into borrowing and spending that we simply do not need. Take my partner's mum, for instance - 73, a darling, brought up on banking loyalty and scammed for over £150 by the building & contents insurer she'd banked with for over 40 years, when she simply renewed her policy. Isn't that sick? “It could be your Nan” to paraphrase the National Lottery.

Food prices bother the hell out of me too. As I've blogged previously, by and large they're the same at Costco (the wholesaler where I shop) as they were when I opened my account in mid 2006. Yet at supermarkets I find food staples have gone through the roof and there's too many discrepancies for the price hikes to be believable – I mean why is Value bread some 20p a loaf dearer than it was in 2006, yet Value scones are about the same price? Didn't those terrible harvests affect the self raising flour crops then? Nah, it's the supermarkets that are doing the self-raising.

Shed loads of own brand and value foods have gone up, yet we're repeatedly told to downshift to these. More transfats, higher salt and sugar intake, poorer food quality. I found it fascinating that The Guardian article established a relationship between income gaps and obesity...

I also loathe the fact that supermarket booze is so cheap – loss leading, it's called (there's a link to a Government paper about it on the Household page). If you Google my dad (Delme Bryn-Jones btw), The Independent obituary will tell you that he was an alcoholic. Sadly his recovery was the bit they omitted, which was important to me because we never went without because Dad had drunk the proceeds. But we could have done – and I don't think I could cope with mentoring that in my classroom.

Now, my food prices and teen angst may be a long way from policy making, but if we are to #rebootbritain then more people need to know the kinds of skills that I learned when I had to go without. Zero-credit needs to be a shared resource, discursive, informative and accessible - older folks need to know how to switch utilities, insurers and save. 

Me? I am just a nice fat middle aged lady who likes writing - savvy enough to know a raw deal when she sees one – but limited in the time and technical expertise to make big noises. Dammit, I've spent just over a year and £150 of my hard earned cash on this website, please would you help it to end the vicious cycle of borrowing?

Posted @ 20:58:51 on 08 July 2009

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A friend in need...

I recently used the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's minimum income calculator. This year, the minimum for a single person household has gone up to just under £14k before tax. It changes quite a bit when you key in your actual rent or mortgage outgoings and what you spend on transport. 

Say you earn £25k, an amount which usually requires some level of higher education and which many on lower incomes would consider okay. Take off approximately a third for Tax and NI and you're left with around £600 or so a month on top of the bare minimum. It gets you thinking doesn't it: I mean, how do you buy a house, replace a fridge, cooker or washing machine; which car can you afford to buy; and where do you take a holiday? Many just borrow against the future. 

Personally, I think that this is precisely what the mega-wealthy are banking on, especially now that interest rates have plummeted. It made me sick to read in The Times last week that homes are being repossessed for as little as £4,000 in credit card debt. Borrow at your peril, I say.

Today, The Independent reports: “Union anger at the threat of public sector pay freeze”. Too damned right they are angry – so would you be, if you did the maths! But before you pooh-pooh me for being a teacher, with six weeks summer holiday and all, I want you to look at the figures, not what you think the work entails.

The reality of the “earn up to £35k” teacher recruitment campaign is that three and a half times £35k is some £30,000 short of the average house price in this country. What's more, to reach an income of £35k, (without taking on extra responsibilities) can take some ten years. Not so if you're the Principal of one of these new fangled Academies of course, where your salary is likely to be off the upper limits of nationally agreed pay scales and in excess of £100,000 plus benefits, with little or no accountability if you mess up. I'm sure nurses and firefighters can offer even better examples.

The truth is that inflation figures are a decoy. They are derived from now bipolar trends, rendering them totally inoperable as a meaningful average. The massive drop in interest rates is countered by huge increases in food and fuel costs, such that anyone who does not have a mortgage for which repayments have dropped is increasingly and significantly worse off.

My advice? As final salary pensions come under threat and many of us look set for retirement at 70, think long and hard before borrow a penny – you could very well be paying for it the rest of your life.

Posted @ 18:53:16 on 06 July 2009

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

In yer Facebook!

Ever been to a webinar? I have – it was so exciting. I'm like dancing to the 'b'nar-waiting music and hand-jiving in my swivel chair. I should have had the webcam on to vlog my online learning curve. Helen (my OYAP thankee and real Portuguese connection) said it – what you've learned in a couple of months is amazing. Truth be told, though, I've a way to go with social media and that is my dilemma. 

Can you help? Zero-credit needs exposure - don't we all? But I'd like to think that its free to use and ad-free ethos shares something we desperately need. The appalling statistic that 50% of us own a mere 1% of private wealth simply cannot be ignored. And the recession is merrily exasperating our sorry state, as shrewd marketeers think of new ways to sell the Emperor's New Clothes. Twitter is great for spotting that.

However, I am fast reaching information overload - I don't mind learning new stuff. I am a teacher for goodness sake - but I have a family to care for, lessons to plan, a man to love and books that I so very much want to write. So, exposure will do me no harm... But what will the lack of exposure do to:

Even Helen didn't know that you can shave 2% off a bill by going paperless – which is a sin because energy is as essential as the air we breathe and yet we continue to namby pamby with fuel poverty spin. 

“Verba non acta” my son frequently says – usually about my nagging him to do the washing up. But he's right. The webinar I attended quoted some Marketing Director at Microsoft - my learning curve was too prolific in note taking to get all of it - that social media is shifting the emphasis from companies and institutions to individuals and communities. So how about you make that even more of a reality and help me? 

I'm not asking for cash, but your comments and recommendations. The get rich quick with a click brigade are fogging my horizons and I am so not interested. For one, I have no money to finance their fix and for another there is so much more I'd like to do.

Zero-credit was born a year ago. I was ill and writing took my mind off that. Since then I have relived all my best Zero-credits, cutting my monthly outgoings by half and my hours in the classroom by a third, just so I can write. 

To me it is simple – if you like what I have to say, then help me to say it. Discuss with me, share your ideas - I will credit you! Share your credit free tips for social media. And if you don't like my message? By all means argue the toss, because to my mind finding that half of this country lives in relative poverty is a disgrace.

Posted @ 00:00:15 on 01 July 2009