26 May 2022

North-South divide.

Much has been said over the decades about the great North-South divide in this country. Most of its proponents from the North argue that Southerners have it all too easy, have the best jobs, houses, standard of living etc and those in the North are hard done by. Some Northerners carry their bitterness to the extreme. My daughter was bullied terribly in her first year at a university in the North by a Liverpudlian flatmate who saw it as her life's aim to reduce my daughter to a terrified wreck and completely ruined her university experience, purely because my daughter came from down south and had a London accent.

I would go as far as to say us Southerners don't have it all and are in many cases worse off for living in the South. Yes, there are plenty of jobs and plenty of housing, but our standard of living is not great.  I don't dispute there there is higher unemployment in the North, but I am merely comparing like-professionals with like-housing and travel costs. 

Rental property in the south is astronomical compared to that in the north. On the left of the two photos below,  look at this TWO-bedroom flat on the ground floor of an old house in Newcastle for £700 per month . Compare that with a similar property in London  (photo on the right) where you can  only get a ONE-bedroom ground floor flat for a massive £1250 a month The further into the centre of London you look, they are even more expensive. The one shown is in the suburbs. A similar ONE-bedroom flat closer to the centre is £1550 per month.


Kay and her partner Darcy are having to move to London, as their jobs now dictate a career move about which they have no choice,  as it is part of their training programme.  Up to now they have been renting a one-bedroom flat in a crumbling Victorian house in Surrey for £1000 per month, but want to get onto the ownership ladder, as they are both now in their 30s. 

A lot of Kay's uni friends in the North have settled with their partners or husbands and bought their first properties. They can typically afford detached or semi-detached houses with a fair amount of garden in Yorkshire or Lancashire, such as this one below left at a bargain £240,000  Kay will be lucky to get a one-bedroom flat in a run-down area of London for that price. Compare that northern house price with the one in the photo on on the right to give you an idea what Kay would have to pay in London or anywhere in the Southern region for a whopping £650,000

Furthermore, If she wants to furnish it with nice things or decorate it, she will need to find the money over years and years, compared with her friends who have saved money on the house price and therefore can have it all at once and now.

The cost of travel and commuting around London and the South East doesn't come cheap either. With congestion charges of £15 to enter into the city centre or extortionate commuter train and bus fares  to get about the vast expanse of London and the SouthEast, it does not even get covered by the paltry London Weighting, which in no way makes up for the disparity of prices.

I have always argued that someone who is doing a similar job in the North to someone in the South is far better off. A teacher or civil servant or other professional will earn a similar salary, wherever they are,  but the one in the North will have their standard of living for a third of the price the southerner has to pay. They can therefore afford nicer cars, more exotic holidays, new furniture, kitchens and whatever they want to spend their spare cash on. The Southerner will have to make compromises or do without, as they have no spare cash.

The disparity does not stop there.  When buying a house, stamp duty rises according to house prices, so the southerner will always pay hefty stamp duty for a more modest house compared to their northern counterpart who, on the above examples, will pay very little stamp duty.  Even in death, if the house is passed to a southerner's children, they will be clobbered for 40% inheritance tax when they inherit a modest property, whereas the northern property (although far grander, but of far less value) will attract no inheritance tax at all.

It just aint fair. Incidentally, all of those photos shown above can be looked at in detail on Rightmove by clicking on the price tag links. 

08 May 2022

Food for thought

For the last four years I have volunteered at a foodbank which is run from a local church. It started a good few years before I joined, when somebody knocked on the vicar's door and begged for food, as they had not eaten in three days. The vicar raided his larder and produced some food. A few days later, the same person returned with a few others and the queue grew. Over time, the vicar set up a trust and the foodbank was born. 

It's main aim is to feed the local homeless, jobless, people of no fixed abode and sofa-surfers, but nobody is turned away.  Many feel quite embarrassed to be there in the first place, but you can tell they have no choice. Some are pensioners struggling to survive on a state pension, others have mental health issues, quite a few have lost jobs during the covid pandemic. The foodbank is open for a few hours every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

The vicar, however, recognised that food alone was not the only answer to their problems so has, in addition to the three-weekly food collection days, set up:

  • advocacy to advise and help filling in benefit or housing applications
  • literacy to help with reading, writing and maths
  • clothing to replace torn clothes
  • sewing to repair clothes with more life to give
  • a cooked two-course meal on the Friday sessions 
  • a cafe to have a snack and meet friends on the Tuesday and Saturday sessions
  • a shower and washing machine for those with no fixed abode

I help out handing out food and I am the sole person to do the sewing repairs. I am gradually getting to know many of them and just chatting can help them open up and feel normal, when their life is often chaos and lonely. On the cooked meal day we can serve about 100 people, on the other days at least 40 or 50.

We rely on donations from the general public (both food and money) as well as generous donations from local supermarkets and shops when their goods are getting close to use-by dates. We do not accept fresh meat or fish, but prefer shelf goods such as tins or jars.  One local baker provides end-of-day unsold bread and we do accept eggs. We offer toiletries too and even dog or cat food, as many have pets.

Sadly, over the last few months donations have not been so forthcoming, as  our usual  donors have been hit by rising costs and inflation, so stocks in our container have  started to dwindle. With this in mind, the church held a plant and cake sale yesterday to raise funds for the foodbank. I made 10 slabs of cake (shown in the photo below) and each slab was sold for £4. I helped run the cafe and the local community poured in to buy cakes and hot drinks either to eat on the premises or take away. We didn't stop for two hours serving an endless stream of people. Outside the plants were flying off the stalls too.  By the end of the afternoon, we totted up the total and were thoroughly amazed that we had collected over £1,100. In just two hours! That will buy an awful lot of tins and toiletries to see us over the coming months until the Harvest Festivals in the autumn can swell our stores again. 

02 May 2022

Animal Mad

This picture shows an advertising board outside my local cafe. It made me laugh, but it also reminded me how we as a nation love our pets. You can usually tell someone from the way they treat animals.  I have noticed that, for example, hospitable and lovely as Greek people are, they treat their animals very badly. On my Greek travels over decades, I have never seen so many stray dogs and cats, let alone tethered goats and horses out in the searing midday sun with no shade.  Seeing the awful footage of the war in Ukraine, one thing has been evident. Not only are the poor people fleeing from their homes, but they carry their pets with them. It makes the Ukrainian people's plight even more heart-rending. It could be us.