Monday, 9 December 2013

The Working Poor Christmas...

November. My husband and I gathered the boys around for a talk about Christmas. Well, not so much about Christmas but about Christmas finances. Being a large family with 4 sons, we have always told them the truth about what we can and what we cannot do as regards presents in the past. Brand new games consoles that come out in time for December have never been a priority.. We have bought a console or two in the past when they have been plentiful the year after, rather than promising the new pricey version for Christmas.

But our talk this year for 2013 has been a little different. Scrap that. To be truthful it has been blunt and to the point. The money is not there to do the "full works" any longer and pay the December bills. Our boys are old enough to understand that mortgages have to be paid in December too, as well as the utility bills and council tax. I have made up a "December Budget" sheet and as a family we decided which items on the list were higher priority than others and which things could be scrapped altogether.

We put the bill budget to one side as we all agreed no payments would be missed. Everyone saw my point that a bill missed in December would be hanging round our necks in the New Year. There would be no loans from anywhere, as we have booked a summer holiday to Scotland as a treat for the post GCSES our younger boys are taking and we need to pay for that. Christmas 2013 will be done on the money we have.

Christmas cards that needed posting were discussed. We agreed to cut this to the bone and phone people to say why. This has worked as the same people said it was a relief to them too as postage is so high. Normally we post large parcels to my sisters families and children, but agreed vouchers would be sent instead.  We explained to grandparents that we are not in a position this year to do what we have done in the past with £50 average spend on interflora arrangements or luxury jumpers etc. Smaller gifts would be given and we told them  to spend a minimum amount on the boys as they are older now.

We agreed the younger boys at school could attend Christmas parties and the like, but my husband and I would turn our invitations down for meal nights etc. The expense on these nights was a luxury
that we can no longer afford or prioritise.Cinema or a theatre trip was also considered excessive and was cut likewise. There are four close family members with birthdays over Christmas and early January. Normally a birthday card containing money or a gift card would be sent. Instead, we agreed it would again be necessary to phone and explain that a birthday card only would be sent this year due to our circumstances. It risked upsetting family, but it had to be done and faced.

We all decided the actual Christmas Day feast and extras like chocolates, mince pies, cream, cheeseboard, crackers were more important than Christmas presents. It is probably easier to deal with 4 sons like mine who are older, than younger children who want to see dozens of presents lined up on Christmas morning, but again talking to children and asking them what their priorities are is a real
incite. The boys agreed that smaller, cheaper gifts were less important than the merriment of the day itself, so the present budget was cut accordingly. I am very astute  at shopping in stores from Aldi- Tesco - M+S for the Christmas food shop to get basics and the nicer Christmas foods on offer, but it was agreed we should shop just enough for the set days we needed ie Dec 23rd - Dec 27th as the supermarkets will be open again after Boxing Day. Every year we have tended to buy too much fresh food and so this year we will buy exactly what is needed for the few days, then more after the 27th. There will be a donation to the local Foodbank as we firmly hold the belief that "there but for the grace of  God go I".... If IDS gets his way about low income self employed being forced to move to JSA under Universal Credit, if they don't earn the minimum income floor of 11k, we may indeed be future Foodbank clients ourselves.

My husband said he would slash the Christmas drinks budget. In the past he would buy a full range of
spirits in case guests turned up unexpectedly as well as a few crates of beer. This year he will buy a
bottle of whiskey and a crate of beer as we are not expecting anyone. This decision was not popular
with our older boys, but acknowledged as a necessary budget cut.

New Years Eve will be spent at home. The sheer expense of a NYE night out is not on our horizon.
The older boys aged 24 and 21 will go out as they both work and are of the age to enjoy and look forward to NYE, but the rest of us will stay at home with a DVD or two. We
are even cutting out the Radio Times expense as it is over £3 to buy. Staying in on NYE also
eliminates the expense of new clothes and a trip to the hairdressers, something I never used to think
about pre 2010.  Likewise a couple of nights in the pub over Christmas week, a nice day out on the N Wales Coast where we live and a Christmas pub lunch with the boys are now off the list. Memories of what we used to be able to do as well as paying bills hit home. Not extravagant excesses, just a Christmas that made life and work worthwhile. A time when work paid for a few extra treats at Christmas time. Of course I am aware that our choices are not as anywhere near difficult as those people facing heat or eat this Christmas, and who are already in  rent arrears or moving out due to bedroom tax or will be visiting Foodbanks this year. But  I do know that in future we are only a few steps away from being in that situation unless there is a change in Government and policies protecting the Working Poor and disabled.

I am hoping quality family time makes up for the budget cuts necessary this year. We don't like making them, but we believe that by being truthful with the children, it is better than owing WONGA and the loan companies huge debts in the new year. I feel bitter that even though we work, it has been made necessary to make swingeing cuts to our family Christmas while Cameron, Osborne and Clegg
 will no doubt be choosing between the goose, swan or pheasant or enjoying all three for Christmas lunch. Being self employed there is no one to turn to in order to demand a minimum or a Living Wage. My husbands overall cost for DJ'ing  a party night hasn't risen in 10 years! He will also be working over the entire Christmas fortnight. The days when a premium could be expected to work Christmas Eve and NYE are gone. Many landlords of pubs/clubs will not pay larger amounts any longer, and simply cut entertainment altogether if faced with a higher price for those nights.

We always thought being self employed, caring for our sons and our youngest who is autistic was
enough to keep us from poverty. I fear poverty has arrived and becoming an increasing reality in 2014 for many Working Poor families like mine. Trouble is, the belts have been tightened. If our standard of living falls again next year, there will be no difference in working and not working at all. I would think that statement alone would ring alarm bells in the DWP. If work makes you poor, people will question whether working is worthwhile. This is the depth to which this Government has plummeted to. A modern Britain where work no longer pays bills, feeds families and allows for a basic holiday and the odd treat and a comfortable Christmas.
Merry Christmas Mr Cameron.. Enjoy your Christmas lunch on the backs of the Poor.