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The upsetting reality of 2022 Britain, and why I feel guilty

Greg Devine


Union Jack Flag in the wind

Excitement filled the air last weekend as I helped some friends move into their new student house—their first ‘home’ outside of student halls. Boxes were carried, beds were made, and boundaries were set before the first housewarming party began.

Being students, no party is complete without cheap booze, so a trip to Aldi was on the cards. £2.50 bottles of wine in hand, I headed to the checkout. The Aldi I visited was in the centre of Sheffield. Oddly, Sheffield has few budget supermarkets, despite the fact that there are various areas in and around the city that house lots of families on low incomes.

I visit this particular Aldi often. Being a student myself, cheap deals are a must. However, never have I left the store with such a sense of sadness. As I waited in line, the conveyor belt containing my five pounds worth of cheap, cheerful booze, I overheard the gentleman before me talking to the cashier. He politely asked if they would stop scanning once the total reached £20, adding ‘we’re all struggling in these tough times’. I watched the man remove items from the conveyor belt that he couldn’t justify as essential, such as chocolate, crisps and fizzy pop, sacrificing these for necessary toiletries.

It was in that moment that I realised I wasn’t truly aware of the struggles the cost-of-living crisis is having on people. I know some are struggling to heat their homes and food banks are becoming overwhelmed, but seeing it first-hand made it very real. Many of my friends are currently struggling with money, but that gentleman had a family to provide for. Stereotypically, a man is supposed to be the breadwinner; I can’t even begin to imagine the mental health struggles the current crisis is causing.

UK loose change on grey background

UK loose change on grey background

It almost makes a student’s struggles seem irrelevant. I think it shows just how deep the issue is for the country, when a student with a couple of quid in the bank feels guilty for believing they’re struggling financially.

Back to my friends who were moving—many of them are in their overdrafts. One hasn’t been able to pay their deposit, another three can’t meet the utility bills. Luckily, their student loans will come in soon then most uni-goers will be fine. Students from low-income families are given a loan of between £9,000 to £12,000 for the year, to cover rent and food costs; however, this creates its own issue.

New students will become victims of their parents’ success. I am very fortunate that my parents have both worked their way up into management roles. Neither of them went to university, they both come from working-class families, and they understand what hard times look like. Student loans are based on your parents’ earnings. In my case, after assessing my household income, Student Finance England have awarded me around £4000. My rent, however, is £6000.

UK university building in a fish eye lens

UK university building in a fish eye lens

The government assumes £9000 to be what a student needs for food and rent and it expects parents to make up the difference between any loan awarded and the actual costs to be paid. This means the government expects my parents to pay £5000 per annum. Here’s my issue, though—just because a household’s income appears decent on paper it doesn’t mean there’s cash to throw around. My parents still have energy bills to pay; fuel costs, mortgages, finance agreements, broadband, phone contracts, food, toiletries, etc. Is this anywhere near as bad as the situation the gentleman in Aldi found himself in? No. But it shouldn’t be, either. It’s not a race to the bottom or a competition around who’s suffering the most in this cost-of-living crisis. What the situation shows me is that, no matter where you sit in life, whether working class or middle class, something is systemically wrong in the UK right now.

Only those in the very highest positions aren’t struggling. When you feel guilty that you at least have food on your table, the only conclusion is that we have a broken economy.

Fuel’s too expensive, students are falling further into their overdrafts, and some people are having to choose between soap and a bar of chocolate. This is the depressing reality of 2022 Britain. How did things get this bad?

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