Monday, 29 June 2015

Clicklist #4

The Financial Diet has fast become one of my favourite websites. Although it is pretty American-centric, its emphasis on talking about financial issues at a time when most online websites focus on the material is refreshing. I especially appreciate this article on food shopping; how not to go broke moving house; and why we should probably stop trying to seem perfect.

Two posts that really inspired my wanderlust; Amy at The Little Magpie's guide to Crete and Kate at gh0stparties post on Iceland.

I unashamedly love astrology, and I loved this post by Jess about reasons why it's awesome (Pisces with a Leo moon...if you were wondering).

Why Every Girl Should Have a Night Away on Her Own

Emily Diana Ruth makes some of my favourite YouTube videos, and she's started writing more on her blog and I really recommend you check out both.

Rosie went to the Carsten Holler exhibition in London and it looks like the most fun 'art' exhibition I've ever seen.

27 Reasons Why It's Bloody Amazing to be a Woman in Her Twenties Right Now. Because it's easy to focus on the bad stuff.

I found Charlotte's post on her home in London really moving.

A friend of mine lives in Liverpool, and somehow I've never managed to get to Crosby to see these amazing statutes. Cat's post has definitely pushed them up my to-see list.

Returning to travel posts Kate did a two part series on her trip to New York, and Hannah wrote a little piece on her relationship with the city as well. It's somewhere that I really, really, really want to go.

I loved this by Haley on the portrayal of women in films, and the shout out to Call Your Girlfriend which is a fab podcast that you really need to be listening to.

And that's that for June. I think I'm going to start doing these sort of posts weekly rather than monthly as I watch/read far too much on the internet to stop these being thousands of words long. And I don't want to look like too much of a Single White Female toward my favourite blogs!

I hope June has been good for you


Picture credit here.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Thoughts On: Strivers vs. Scroungers

This post was supposed to be written in response to the announcement of Britain's Hardest Grafter, which sounds like some kind of W1A satire-but real. The title just sat in my drafts only to come back to me after I endured watching Benefits Britain, a documentary which aims at exploring life for people on welfare-but is obviously filmed in a way to make everyone involved look as bad as possible or, in the words of the tabloid press, like skiving scroungers.

The last election saw politicians fall over themselves to prove that they were part of the group that really represented hard working people or those who are 'aspirational'. The main way that they did this was to reassure them that those scroungers who spent all day watching daytime TV and who are sleeping in with the blinds down while the ordinary working Briton is commuting would be punished. Clearly, if people are less well-off when they're working than when they're on benefits something needs to be done; but perhaps it would make more sense to legislate for a living wage rather than allow working people to continue to struggle to live in our major cities and simply cut welfare payments, claiming to be working towards a fairer society.

This shirkers and scroungers narrative is a problem across the political spectrum; in the current Labour leadership contest there is a lot of talk about wanting to represent 'aspiration'. The inference being that under Miliband's leadership they were considered to be too soft on welfare reform, and that obviously no one who is signing on could possibly have any form of ambition. However, the them and us narrative is most loudly preached by the right. 

The Coalition government began to reduce welfare spending, largely blaming Labour for creating a budget imbalance, and the new Conservative  have already announced that they are going to be making £12bn worth of cuts to the welfare budget. Although they haven't quite worked out where, or how they'll be doing this. Whilst introducing a cap on benefits neatly feeds into the 'punishing the lazy unemployed' narrative, it's likely that the main area that will face cuts is tax credits. Far from supporting the work-shy's big television fund, tax credits support those on low incomes in order for them to make ends meet. Whilst Cameron does appear to pay lip service to the idea of higher wages, it seems unlikely that when he talks about 'drivers of opportunity' he's referring to raising wages for shop workers. It's more likely that he's suggesting that lower corporate taxes will enable business to pay their workers more; or in improving Britain's STEM industry standing-none of which will particularly help Osborne's striving shift workers.

This lack of understanding, wilful or otherwise, of issues surrounding those who aren't employed is something that is a defining feature of our current government and its supporters. 'Human errors' which end in people with serious illnesses being asked to attend a job centre meeting. There's been an alarming trend in suicides and deaths among vulnerable people who have their benefits removed. And there's been a general denial from politicians and right-wing journalists that there is any correlation between people's benefits being removed or decreased and the use of food banks; or that this is even a bad thing, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. 

It would be untrue to say that no one on benefits plays the system, but this represents just 1% of welfare payments. When I think about Benefits Britain, there was only person on the show that I would say seemed a little sketchy. The others were a young couple wanting a ~benefits baby~ but they shopped in charity shops and the man wanted to get a job to support his future child. A foster mum who is framed as hoarding her teenage children's benefits for rent (how dare she) who ultimately gets a part-time job, and who is an excellent reminder of the anxiety faced by the unemployed when it comes to making the grade and getting fired. There was also a single ex-carer who is facing losing her home that she's lived in for over a decade thanks to the bedroom tax. I'm pretty sure Channel 5 and the government would want me to be filled with rage that my money is funding these people's lifestyles; but it kind of just made me feel sad.

This rhetoric of them and us has always been present in politics and is becoming increasingly so over the past few years, whether about immigrants or the poor (the headlines at the beginning of this piece are from 2012). However, its lazy politics and I, for one, am definitely bored of it.

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(I wrote this last week, but George Monbiot wrote an excellent piece on the same topic which is far more eloquent than mine, you can read that here)

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Moving Diaries: Heartbreak House

(sadly not my new flat, source)

As you may have guessed from some hints in my previous posts, I've been offered a new job. This means I'm heading back to Birmingham, and the world of political policy, which I'm very excited about.

This of course also means moving, unless I fancy getting a train at 6am (which I really don't). I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that moving is one of the most stressful things that a person can go through and I'm already feeling that.

On the plus side, the internet makes flat hunting really easy. Sites like Right Move and Zoopla make it easy to browse through flats with your budget and needs in mind. The former's mobile app is especially good and easy to use. Obviously there are things to look out for; namely the over-zealous use of fish-eye lenses and stretching photos in the hope that you'll be lulled into thinking the flat is about five times its' actual size. I can also feel my blood pressure increasing at how awful some properties are, and that landlords don't think twice about charging people £400 for a flat that doesn't look much bigger than my current bedroom. But I've been quite happily saving properties and trying to arrange viewings in addition to working all of the hours some miles away from Birmingham.

And then I thought I'd found The One. It was in a perfect location; central but quiet with enough greenery to stop you feeling like you were living in a concrete jungle. It had high ceilings with a lot of light and a lot more space than I was expecting. It was towards the top end of my budget but would literally be a fifteen minute walk to work. It needed a bit of TLC after having had an obviously long-term tenant with an interesting interpretation of cleanliness. But on the whole, perfect. I told the agent I'd consider moving forward and then went on a celebratory splurge in Zara.

Then I remembered the EPC. This is an Energy Performance Certificate which is legally required to be shown to prospective tenants as it is a solid suggestion of how much it might cost to heat your home. My dream flat's EPC grade: an F. The second lowest. In 2018, it will be illegal for landlords to rent properties with a grade so low. In denial, I set about googling energy tariffs only to find it would probably cost me more than my parents pay to heat a four bed detached house for four people. After desperately trying to figure out a way for it to be affordable (the internet's not essential is it?), I sent an email to the letting agents saying that unless the landlord was planning on doing some efficiency changes I probably wouldn't be able to afford to live in the flat.

Whilst I'm desperately hoping that I'll get an email back saying that the landlord is in fact planning on replacing the boiler, double glazing the windows and insulating the walls; I somehow doubt that will happen. So if you need me, I'll be refreshing Right Move and trying not to panic about only having a little over a month to find somewhere to live (*nervous laughter*) .


Note: If you've recently bought or leased a house with a low efficency grade you can get help from the government to improve its eco-friendlyness; more here

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Ring of Keys

So it feels like it's been a while since I put pen to paper (...fingers to keys?) here, which I'm blaming on 40 hour plus weeks at work. Whilst I do have some exciting news on that front (hopefully-I don't want to tempt fate), I wanted to really briefly chat about the Tony Awards.

The Tony Awards are basically akin to the Oscars for US theatre, the UK equivalent being the Oliviers. Making them incredibly important to this not-very-secret theatre nerd. This year, after 69 years, a female writing duo, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, won for Best Book and Best Score for their adaptation of Fun Home, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The show and novel tell the story of Bechdel discovering her own homosexuality, and dealing with discovering her father's sexuality after his death. The song above is 'Ring of Keys' and is the moment that a young Alison realises that she is not alone in being 'different'. Plus Sydney Lucas, who plays Young Alison, is only eleven. Eleven.

So a pretty amazing year for the Tonys in terms of directly nodding to LGBTQ issues, finally having a female composing team gaining recognition and having Ruthie Ann Miles become one of just a handful Asian Tony winners. 

Plus, Tony Yazbeck's voice is so beautiful is makes Anna Wintour smile.

Please tell me someone else out there cares so much about the Tonys?