25 Jan 2014

‘I should have been revising but my family was homeless’

Lucy Broomfield, who turned 14 the week Northern Rock collapsed, writes for Channel 4 News about growing up in austerity-hit Britain.

Diary of growing up in the recession, by Lucy Broomfield

In September 2007, Northern Rock collapsed, writes 20-year old Lucy Broomfield.

This was a pivotal moment for me as the week this occurred was the week that I turned 14.

While the drama of Northern Rock was happening in the background, businesses and families was facing up to the situation of the “Great Recession” (coined by media after being the biggest recession since the Great Depression in the 1920s). As a result of the the “Great Recession” – countries were paralysed, businesses were eradicated and families were crippled. My family was no exception.

My sister and I were 14 and 15 when the world was crippled with the recession. It was tough. In fact, tough is an understatement.

My sister and I were 14 and 15 respectively when the world was crippled with the recession. It was tough. In fact, I would say the word tough is an understatement. My mother had a part-time job as a support worker on minimum wages and whilst we were able to get child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefit, my family still struggled like any other families. It was hard finding part-time work for both me and my sister as we were not old enough to work due to not having a National Insurance number.

For the first couple of years of the recession, money was tight but we were able to survive by having my sister create spreadsheets based on expenditure and not being able to spend what we not had. I found school difficult because my father had just left home the year before, and it used to cost £2.70 a day just to even get to school.

Read more from Channel 4 News on life for young people - Teen 2014

It was tough on my mother who got low wages but had to fork out just over £40 a month for me to go to school, whereas my sister was able to get a free bus pass. It wasn’t my sister’s fault that I could not get a free bus pass – I blame legislation which dictated that children can only get a free bus pass if it was their first choice of school when it came to applying for secondary schools. I thought it was not fair. I thought that it was harming the chances of children whose parents could not afford bus fare five days a week for 39 weeks in a school year. I used to be late for school because I was trying to find change for bus fare at times. It was not fair, especially when others such as those on jobseekers’ allowance or elderly people could get discounts or free bus passes. But they make up the electorate.

Money was tight

In the middle of Year 11, money was tight and mortgage repayments on the house could not be paid as it was between eating, heating or having to pay a mortgage.

This meant county court judgements were posted through the door and bailiffs were knocking on the door – they wanted us out and inevitably my family was made homeless. This was late April 2010 – about two weeks before the general election. Like so many others, I should have been revising constantly for my GCSEs but I had other priorities on my mind – finding a new house to rent, for example. I managed to get 7 A-C GCSEs but only because I had my sister teaching me at home what to remember as she had managed to achieve 12 GCSEs A-C two years previously.

It didn’t bother me that I was homeless. I just thought it was more of a hindrance because I needed to pass these subjects so I was able to get into college. I was able to get the maximum EMA grant per week – £30. This helped massively when it came to college because I was able to get all my books and some lunch to help me with my A-levels.

I do not envy the older generations – I just wish they had more vision.

I enjoyed doing my A-levels – teachers were supportive, understanding and caring. It was not my first choice of college course – in fact I had to drop out of an art course because the materials being too expensive to buy but nevertheless I managed to achieve BCC in my A-levels. If it wasn’t for EMA, then I do not think I would not have attended college and not of had the chance to try and get into university (I have got a place for university in September 2014) to improve my prospects. I fear that a lot of young adults without any help cannot have that opportunity and with tuition fees – I fear that even with going to university, children growing up, young adults attending university now will be crippled with debt.

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They will be asphyxiated with debt even without trying to get a mortgage. It is many people’s dream in life to be able to have a house that they can claim as their own without having landlords and estate agents constantly harassing them. In March 2013, my grandmother passed away and instead of having the chance to grieve, I had to sort out finding somewhere else to live as the landlord of the house wanted to sell the house that we lived in, or bailiffs would have come round knocking.

I may have been 19 at the time but my father was able to get a mortgage under the right to buy scheme from the 1980s at the age of 24 in 1992. I don’t blame the right to buy scheme to a certain extent – parents wanted a secure home for their offspring however on the other hand it caused prices to sky rocket and it’s caused a lack of suitable housing for young adults and young families.

Working hard

I do not envy the older generations – I just wish they had more vision when it came to deciding on what to do. Last week, cutting housing benefit for under-25s was discussed. Housing benefit does benefit those who work – my sister, who is 21, claims for housing benefit because her wages would not cover all the necessities in a month: rent, gas, electricity, food, toiletries and bus fare to work, bus fare from work, whilst her partner is a university student.

She’s a hard worker, I am a hard worker but we both live on the breadline. I work 37 hours a week as an apprentice – I enjoy my job, I enjoy coming to work and working with lovely people but it is tough financially as there is no way of getting financial help things such as dental care or health care, which has to be put off due to the costs. Everything should not be free but if college students can work part time and get £100 a week for a part-time job and get free healthcare, then surely apprentices could get more help as we are after all being trained to be the next generation of workers.

She’s a hard worker, I am a hard worker, but we both live on the breadline.

Seven years on, I, like others, have had chance to reflect on what happened, why it happened, how did it happen. Things are not as bad as previous years – I will admit that. However, I feel that when skilled professionals make decisions on things such as healthcare, education, children, housing policy and economics, they don’t count those who do not vote and burden them with more debts than they had when they were adults or young adults.

I’ve started training to be a youth offender mentor and a learning mentor but I am also looking to help at youth clubs so I can help others to improve their prospects. I have not decided what to do with my career yet – there’s plenty of time to decide but if I could help others in one way or another then that is what I will do. I might not have much when it comes to money but I have always had my family, my partner and my friends and I’ve learnt that sometimes money doesn’t matter all the time – there’s no point in being greedy with money when you have always got your family there.