The New Reality of European Economic Life
We are certainly betwixt and between right now and we’re in a rather large boatload of people with the same issues. Just as it happened in France AFTER we had arrived, felt keenly optimistic, and were ready to settle in, things are changing rapidly in England as well.
In France, after President Holland was elected and by the beginning of the new year, it was the hideous tax changes and pensions changes that forced not only us but also many other English speaking expats out of the country. The much-discussed ‘French lifestyle’ allows you to enjoy a less stressful lifestyle than the zoom-zoom patterns in many countries — but with a caveat about making a living. There is a distinct lack of encouragement about entrepreneurial initiative, you are expected to conform to the socialist agenda of poor-but-equal, and even large businesses frequently incur the wrath of multi-nationals who cannot understand why there is not a stronger work ethic or higher productivity as noted in this article in the Telegraph.
Here in England, (and literally in the weeks since we have arrived!) we are watching as the costs of living are going up-up-up every single week whilst the wages are dropping. I have placed quite a few links within this article, so do click on them for a more thorough explanation of the current state of affairs here. Consumers have been warned that their energy bills are about to rocket skyward. And the BBC afternoon news told their viewers that the price to fill up the tanks of their vehicles was about to edge upward again in the coming weeks.
After sending out well over over 40 CVs (resumes) and cover letters in the last three weeks, Mark finally had a job interview yesterday and if it had been a good fit, it might have allowed us to settle down here in Norfolk, a part of England that we dearly love. But what the foreman of the construction company offered was ONE-FIFTH of what Mark made in Australia. It wouldn’t even provide us with enough annual income to meet the requirements for me to get residency. Any extra income that I might produce in the UK would also be on hold for a minimum of 6 months until I got (1) the UK Resident ID Card, (2) the UK tax number, and (3) the UK driving license.
Whereas in France there were no minimum income requirements for me to obtain residency, here (effective January 2013 JUST as we were leaving France!) the UK citizen (my husband Mark) who is bringing in a non-UK citizen (me!) has to make a minimum of £27,500 per annum which is about $40,000 AU per year and even that figure is ridiculously less than what Mark was earning when we left on this gap-year-plus adventure. What the man offered him at the interview was HALF of the minimum required for my immigration status to be completed! And he had so many job applications that Mark said to me later (even knowing that he would never take that job) that he was one of the ‘lucky few’ who got a call for a face-to-face interview.
It’s only going to get worse and I think this ‘new reality’ extends to most of Europe. Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland are awash with unemployed and increasingly homeless people — but is the UK headed in that same direction? There is this odd going-down-with-the-ship feeling right now — and at the end of the year the flood gates are going to open again when Romanians and the Bulgarians are allowed free entry into the UK job market. Why? There are already too many people on this island and there are far too few jobs for the ones that are here. The wages will plunge yet again since many of these people are willing to work for minimum wage — £6.19 an hour. Here’s an article that explains why. We’re certainly in that ‘incomer’ category to some extent, but Mark is actually British although he has lived in Australia or New Zealand for most of his life. We are thanking our lucky stars that we have choices.
This is not the upbeat England that we knew when we lived here in the late-1980s or early-to-mid 1990s. It feels like everyone is hanging on by their fingernails — the same sensation that we had in the south of France. And it is distinctly uncomfortable. In another blow to people who are struggling as wages actually go down instead of up, it must be horrifying to think that you have the deposit money for a house and then you are unable to buy one because the banks and formerly customer-friendly building societies are shifting their lending practices more toward buy-to-let (rent) landlords who are scooping up investment properties than they do toward people who are trying to get onto the housing ladder. This is both madness and incredibly unfair. England will end up as a nation comprised predominantly of renters.
Seriously, we knew to never say never, but unless something truly amazing presents itself in Newcastle or Scotland in the next few weeks, it looks like we might be going back to Australia. And that is not making us happy little campers on any front except the future-economic one. Yes we love Australia dearly, yes we love all of our friends back there, but yes also — this part of the world has the culture and art and history and architecture that makes our hearts sing. We left Australia over two years ago totally debt free, with perfect credit, and with a deposit for a house still safely tucked away in the bank. But these life changes in Europe have really eaten into the ‘extras’ part of the bank account.
We certainly loved France, embraced it fully with all of the lovely quirks involved, and felt safe sending for all of our household goods to be shipped over from Australia. Then the Monsieur Holland saga arrived and the financial aspect of the country began to shift dramatically within a very few months. We could never have anticipated those events and frankly it’s unnerving to think that we will have to ship everything back across the world, pay for that expense, AND buy a new vehicle in Australia where the costs are half again as much as what vehicles cost in Europe or the UK. We have a storage unit (that is costing us a fortune to rent!) full of packed things that we will have to sort through and sell off some of the items like washing machine and refrigerator and armchairs etc. What a mess! After all of that, we will somehow have to figure out how to incorporate the costs of a trip to the USA to see my family over there on the way back to Australia.
I do understand, we both do, that this is no failure on our fault since we are not responsible for global changes and we have NO REGRETS about the things we have seen and done for the last two-plus years! But here we were, ready to settle down, buy a house, get involved in a community, and get on with our lives and the ground beneath us is shifting as fast as we are making plans. It is truly, truly eerie and stomach churning to watch it unfold.
You might wonder why I am sharing distinctly non-upbeat news on this site. But I am a life-long journalist as much as a photographer and I can be a mirror of the unfolding world — eyes and ears ‘on the ground’ so to speak. The sands are certainly shifting in every part of the world and it is worth staying apprised of the trends from country to country. No matter how hard things might seem at this very moment, other people are in much more dire situation and we do continue to consider ourselves to be amazingly blessed. We’ll remake our lives somewhere new and it will be wonderful once the stressful part of it is over and done with.
I will keep everyone posted on the unfolding ‘adventure’ in the coming weeks. We are leaving Norfolk at the beginning of the week for a short work assignment in Newcastle and then perhaps another one in Scotland as we try to wrap our heads around the best way to proceed.
Wish us well!
22/02/2013 at 9:41 PM