Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Oh to be young and trapped

I am slowly learning that quite often in life, when it rains, it pours. I was informed today at work that I am to be made redundant over the next couple of days, which was not the ideal circumstance to have weighted on my shoulders before I go on holiday (on Sunday). I work in the civil service, at local government level, and have done so since March. 

Working in local government is enjoyable, particularly if you (like me) are based in an area that you are familiar with. The most rewarding aspect of it is seeing the work you put in translate on the ground into what we call public policy. There is an intimacy and a closeness to the public from a Council perspective that I suspect those working in Whitehall do not get to experience. A five minute walk in Westminster teaches you every thing you need to know about being detached from everyday life. 

The job I am in until Friday this week was not originally intended to be long-term, though I would have happily stayed for another two years. But my early redundancy, which is rational given the lack of a workload justifying my continued employment and thus blatant irresponsibility of wasting public money, came as a surprise. The decision to let me go was correct and I am not angry at having to leave. I like to think I am a little more objective about things than some others may have been, and there are certainly more important things on the horizon for me to worry about. 

Losing my job brings home the realisation that I have a number of serious decisions to make over the coming months. When I work I tend to focus on the present, and since I was relieved to have finished my previous degree, I wanted to forget about academic pursuits entirely and scrape together some savings. I am trying not to let them form dark clouds over my holiday (to Malia, for a scorching, drunken week), but like my mother I am a persistent worrier and pessimist. 

My intention has been to study a Masters in the science(?) of 'Elections, Campaigns and Democracy' at Royal Holloway University, part-time, and for the next two years. Earlier in the year, I didn't give much thought to funding living costs and balancing work and study whilst I was there. I was too focused on attaining the relevant grades in order to have my conditional offer accepted and perhaps naively considered postgraduate study to be a replica of relatively cushy undergraduate life. Perhaps it is if you're rich or your parents own the home you live in. 

The problem I must now deal with is working out how to transition into the next stage of my life, where I begin to set my affairs in order and think more seriously about lining myself up on the right career path. Masters Degrees are intended to provide those they are awarded to with an enclave of expertise and an advantage when competing for professional opportunities. I suppose the former is more consistently true than the latter. 

I have always known two things about myself to be true. The first is that I can write, and the second is that my best decision making comes not from the influence of others, but from my gut. My gut instinct tells me unequivocally that a Masters Degree is the path I should follow. I have always believed in higher education opening doors. When, during my A-Levels, my friends warned against going to university, I knew I had to stick with my gut feeling, swallow the prospect of debt (I was then much more Left-wing) and embark upon higher study. I just knew it would be right for me. And it was.

This should, therefore, be an exciting time for me. But I have only very suddenly begun to appreciate the nature of the crossroads lying ahead of me. I must now decide whether it is financially viable for me to go back to university for postgraduate study, knowing full well that I am unlikely to find the right part-time work to weave in between my study periods, or whether it would be best to postpone my Masters Degree, get a full-time job and begin the long, painful process of saving for a property of my own and running the risk of never returning to education. I sit trapped between two painfully depressing scenarios. 

Of course, the ideal situation would be to pursue the Masters with a part-time job in politics or government on the side. But I cannot work magic in the marketplace just yet (indeed this could be why I am so keen to continue my studies) and life will not bend over backwards to accommodate whatever my needs are. I may even have to consider topping up my new student loan of £10,280 with a loan from my bank to help cover travel and living costs, but there is something about approaching my bank for money that I dislike. Doing so may have knock-on effects for my mortgage (ha) prospects or damage my credit rating. 

If I had the security of a middle class or well-off family behind me, one that owned its own home and didn't require monthly payments from me in the form of rent, I'm sure I would feel substantially freer. There are plenty of people in worse positions than me and there was always food on the table for me and my two siblings. The good thing about growing up poor was that I now appreciate the value of money and hard work. Had my father not walked out on my brother and I, leaving my mother alone with her children and less financial support, family finances would be more stable. But I don't like to complain too much. The situation is beyond my control but I am too intelligent to turn in on my mother. Her efforts deserve my respect and gratitude. I certainly will not engage in destructive street violence and robbery like mindless youths in Hamburg this week. I know better than to channel my frustration towards theft and thuggery. 

The feeling of entrapment that now sits upon me is not unconquerable, but it is a problem. I will need to ensure, above all, that my mental health does not collapse and that I can retain a positive mindset. These things often begin and end in the mind. The catch 22 situation I am in tells me that if I opt for full-time work, and thus lack the time to attend lectures and complete a second degree, I can save a lot of money, but for what cause? Renting is dead money and mortgages are within touching distance of youngsters like Britain is within touching distance of a clean and orderly Brexit. It just isn't going to happen. The best I can hope for is a downward spiral in the cost of housing, similar to that seen in 2008. 

Sometimes, when I commute to work or go about my private leisure, and I am on the bus or train, I stare out of the window in gormless fashion at the better quality houses owned (no doubt) by pensioners who spent proportionally much less on their properties. I know it sounds silly, but owning a house is a dream to me and yet it shouldn't be. There is no starker reminder of inter-generational equality than that seen in Britain's contemporary housing market. And yet we seem far more transfixed by the continued existence of a triple lock on pensions. I fear we are missing the point. 

I often bemoan the young for being childishly demanding of things they think they should have for free. But on housing, our concerns ought to be acknowledged and acted upon. The trouble is that Tory governments, for ideological reasons, tend to avoid massive house-building schemes. This can easily be explained by their commitment to austerity, but I have always privately believed the real reason is that they want the price of their voters' assets (through insatiable demand) to soar. I understand it, but it is very cynical. 

All sense of optimism seems to have completely drained from me. I seem to remember a couple of months ago pondering whether or not to write about how I overcame depression, which I thought would have been useful to many of my readers, but perhaps I was a little premature. Young people are facing difficulty. Graduates of immensely difficult degrees work in coffee shops, competing with automation and increases to the national minimum wage. They should be perched in industry, competing with the best produced by global research and enterprise. 

My problem, I know, sounds like a good one to have. A full time job, from a CV which I believe is remarkably good at the age of 21, or postgraduate study? What more could I want from life. But that is an overly-simplistic characterisation of my affairs. It is about future, progressing towards something and improving my career prospects. Instead I find myself trying to work out which route is least likely to see me plunged into financial ruin. If I choose my degree I risk running out of the money necessary to support my mother and help with rent, and if I choose work I ignore my gut and potentially permanently sideline one of my most burning academic desires. The work I am likely to get this summer will almost certainly not provide a looseness that will allow me to choose which days I do and do not work. And on top of that, I don't yet know my prospective timetable for next academic year.

I now understand better why so many adults told me to treasure my days at school. What a cheery quandary to have to think about as I lay on my beach towel next week. Thank fuck the alcohol is cheap.  

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