My family is middle class.
But we are being ‘squeezed’, or as I prefer to call it ‘metaphorically oppressed between poor people and the upper class’. Why? Because despite my husband Brian working as a solicitor and my internet business selling alpaca tea towels made by Peruvian slum women, the recession and child benefit cap has made me as poor as a church mouse. A church mouse that’s been turned away from Canterbury Cathedral and forced to live in a mucky church in Tower Hamlets!
I first realised we were being squeezed the day I was forced to sign up to vouchercodes.co.uk. The shame of using a voucher to pay towards for our family meal in Carluccios was the most humiliating day of my life. We even had to choose the house red! Brian and I would usually have a coffee to end the meal but I said ‘No darling, we’re poor now and we can make coffee at home with the Nespresso machine you bought me last month for my birthday’ so I’m proud of myself for having saved those essential pennies.
The worst thing about becoming poor is the ever decreasing state of my home. I had to fire Bridget our cleaner, which has saved us £30 a week plus the £5 tip at Christmas. I said to her “We’re poor now Bridget, just like you, and we can no longer afford you. Now before you go, where do you store our vacuum cleaner and precisely what cleaning products would you recommend I use? I’ve heard good things about Cif.’
Because of this, the skirting boards are no longer what they used to be. Last week I had to clean the toilet myself (I am weeping as I type this) and now my wrist hurts. I apologised to my dearest friend, Poppy, who popped in the other day. She said of the mess: ‘I didn’t even notice, your house always looks immaculate’. She was clearly being sarcastic, the little bitch.
Money is so tight that I called a family meeting with Brian, our son Tarquin, and our daughter Darcey.
“The thing is, we must accept that although we are used to nice things and we all speak well and have good manners, the time has come for us to live within our reduced means and make cutbacks. This means sacrifices! From now on, we are each to reduce our daily intake of five-a-day portions of organic fruit and vegetables to just four each. I realise this means rebelling against Government guidelines, but it’s the Government that have put us in this mess in the first place!”
Brian was silent (he’s so strong!). Tarquin looked confused. Darcey started to sob “Does that mean I can no longer snack on medjool dates mummy?” The look of sadness on her face when I told her that the soon to be child benefit cap would mean no more medjool dates for our family, was a look that I will take to my grave.
Tarquin looked up at me and said “Mummy, have you ever thought about doing a BOGOF?”
“HOW DARE YOU!” I cried “Did you pick up that filthy language at your new state school?!”
“No mummy, you misunderstand me. BOGOF isn’t a naughty word. It stands for Buy One Get One Free. It’s a special offer that supermarkets sometimes do.”
“I know what it means!”
Once I'd considered the idea, I immediately drove to Waitrose. Unfortunately medjool dates, parma ham, houmous and goats cheese were not BOGOFed that day. But I did find that Rachel’s organic unsalted butter had 10p off, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. Now that I think about it, Mrs Moneypenny on Channel 4’s Superscrimpers (essential viewing for us now we are becoming poor) recommends buying cheaper products instead of the most expensive ones. At first I thought she was talking nonsense, but Brian reminded me that Mrs Moneypenny also has a column in the Financial Times, so I may give her advice a go given that she is one of us.
My husband and I have worked all our lives. We have paid our taxes. We have always listened to Radio 4. And yet, it is us that have become the ‘deserving poor’ - deserving of sympathy, compassion and our child benefit. Because we know what we have lost, whereas people who have always been poor don’t understand what it’s like to have reduced circumstances and can’t tell the difference, so being poor doesn’t really matter to them.
It will be Essential Waitrose mince pies for us this Christmas, instead of their Luxury Butter ones. Worst of all, I am dreading Christmas television this year in case Oliver! is being screened and Tarquin starts to identify with him. The Government clearly no longer cares about my children.