Right, this is the first post appearing as part of my new resolution to try and up the frequency of posts to this blog as a kind of self-help strategy. I’m hoping my quality control doesn’t plunge through the floor too badly, but part of the plan is that I’m not going to spend as long obsessing over what I write, or worrying about the style, so it might be a bit more rough and ready. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone too badly.
In my last post, I said that I used to quite like the autumn and winter, and that wind and rain were my favourite kinds of weather. Cellar_Door was kind enough to comment (as were lots of other equally lovely people), and pointed out that she liked autumn and winter too, but only in the presence of decent heating.
I’ve blogged before about how lucky I was to fall on my feet in respect of the place where I live. I know a flat halfway between the ground and the sky on a 1960s high-rise estate may not be everybody’s idea of housing heaven, but it’s pretty damn good as far as I’m concerned. There are all kinds of things that make me lucky – one of the key ones is that, because it’s designated ‘social housing’ with a non-commercial rent, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not housing benefit would meet the full cost of the rent, like you do if you make an application for a privately rented flat – but one truly great thing is that it’s warm and dry. I’ve lived before in a flat that was so damp the paint never dried on the walls, and mould grew on all the carpets and windowsills, and in a flat where the windows fitted so badly that the temperature of the flat plunged to the temperature outside within minutes of turning off the (incredibly expensive) heating.
This flat is double glazed, and there are other (occupied, and therefore heated) flats above, below, and around mine. I do have two exterior walls (in some high-rises you only have one wall facing the outside), but I don’t seem to lose too much heat through them either. The heating is in the form of night storage heaters, which isn’t exactly ideal, but they’re reasonably new, and quite efficient. I am officially in fuel ‘poverty’ – I spend 15% of my disposable income (housing and council tax benefits aren’t counted as disposable) on fuel, and fuel ‘poverty’ is defined as spending anything more than 10% – but, given that I can afford to eat and heat simultaneously, I don’t feel especially impoverished.
This is particularly the case if you compare me with other folk who are less well off. A lot of those people are worse off because they’re living on a fixed income, and that mainly includes pensioners who have a small work pension on top of their state pension, which is enough to put them outside the bracket for other state help (pension credit, council tax benefit, free social care etc) but still leaves them with very little to live on. Until she died, my mum was in this situation, because, as his widow, she received half of my dad’s work pension.
In some ways I’m in a similar boat to these people (as are a lot of employed people who are receiving lower than inflation pay rises). The annual uprating of Income Support is far from generous, and is in any case based on the RPI, which means the falling price of things I can’t afford to buy – electronic goods, for the most part – is unfairly assumed to offset the rapidly increasing cost of things I have to buy, like food and fuel. In one major way I’m better off, though, and that’s with respect to council tax and housing costs. I know that, even though these do tend to increase year on year, any increase is met in full by a matching increase in benefit, for the time being at least – the government has tentatively floated the idea of not fully paying social rents, which would land me squarely in the shit. Pensioners faced with rapidly increasing council tax bills on one side; increasing house repair bills or rent on another; old and inefficient heating systems and houses that aren’t insulated or double glazed on a third; and the same upward pressure on food and fuel bills on a fourth must literally feel that they have nowhere to turn.
Somebody else who’s worse off than me is the author of Mentally Interesting: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive. She’s considering getting into debt with the DWP in order to fund a move to somewhere warm:
What I might do is get a budgeting loan (from the DWP, which you have to pay back) and move for the last time. I made the catastrophic mistake of moving into somewhere without heating again […] If I get a budgeting loan, I might give my notice here (and hopefully they’ll accept it, for it is truly freezing and I suspect it’s what’s keeping me coughing)
So, when I say I like the wind and rain, I say it in the context of being someone who lives in a well-insulated flat he can afford to heat, and as someone who can afford to eat enough to keep warm (and physically healthy) in the bad weather. And, when I say I’m going through a bad downturn in my mood which I’m struggling to cope with, I say it as someone who has all the advantages of adequate housing, heating, and food. How people who don’t have that manage to keep their heads together, god only knows.
Note on my mood:
Not a great day today. I’m feeling very guilty about the fact that my material struggles aren’t as great as other people’s (which is stupid in itself – it’s not my fault), but I’m also trying to fight the idea that what I need to do in response is write to the DWP to end my claim for Income Support, and move out of my flat, so that I’ll be in the same position as them. I feel like I don’t deserve the benefits I get because, unlike the pensioners who are struggling, I haven’t worked all my life to build up the entitlement to what i’m being handed on a plate.
Of course, doing those things would do nothing to actually improve anyone else’s life, and so it’s basically a selfish idea, aimed at making me feel better (i.e. less guilty), rather than an altruistic one, aimed at actually helping other people. I really am a self-obsessed, self-regarding piece of shit, aren’t I?
So, anyway, here’s my bullet point summary:
- Low mood
- Irrational guilt
- Inappropriate feelings of personal responsibility
- Urgent desire to go back to bed and hide from the world
- Profound feeling of self-loathing for the way I’ve used other people’s problems to write a post that’s basically all about me
- Sneaking, back-of-my-mind feeling that, if only I was dead, there’d be more money around to help other people and so, looking at it ‘objectively’, it would be better if I was dead
On the other hand, so far today I have:
- Got up at 9-30
- Done the washing up
- Responded to comments on an earlier post
- Commented on a couple of other blogs
- Written a blog post (this one)
Conclusion: The action plan is going reasonably well, but, so far, seems to be having little impact on anything. Let’s assume patience and perseverance are all that are needed.