Sociological Perspectives on Modern Apprenticeships in the UK

The material below is relavant to the Vocationalism topic within the Sociology of Education should help you to answer essay questions such as ”Evaluate Sociological Perspectives on the role of Vocational Education’

What are Modern Apprenticeships?

An apprenticeship is a job with training which would allows an individual to earn while they learn, whilst gaining a nationally recognised qualification. Apprentices aged 19 and over are entitled to the National Minimum Wage at the same level as regular employees, but 16-18 year olds can be paid less – £3.30 an hour (from October 2015) compared to £3.87 an hour for regular employees. Of course an apprentice aged 19 or over would probably be paid less than a qualified person the same age, given that they are less experiened.

Apprenticeships are available for anyone aged 16 or over, but the most common ages for people starting them is 16-24. Apprenticeships must last for a minimum of one year, but can take up to five years to complete.

There are three main levels of Apprenticeship:

– Intermediate apprenticeship (level 2)

– Advanced apprenticeship (level 3)

– Higher and degree apprenticeships (level 4 or above).

Apprenticeships are tied into more traditional vocational qualifications – anyone undertaking a level two apprenticeship will work towards a related city or guilds or BTEC qualification, while anyone doing a higher level apprenticeship will work towards a degree.

Apprenticeships are available in over 170 industries the most popular apprenticeships in 2014 by sector being:

  • Health and social care

  • Business administration

  • Management

 

  • Hospitality and catering
  • Customer service
  • Children’s care learning and development
  • Retail
  • Construction skills
  • Engineering
  • Hairdressing

So in short apprenticeships are basically on the job training leading to a qualification, besides this, it’s impossible to give a representative account of what a ‘typical’ apprenticeship looks like because of the huge variation.

How many people are doing apprenticeships?

  • Since 2010 there have been over 2 million apprenticeship starts (so more than 2 million people in the country (unless they’ve emigrated since) have either done them or are doing them).

  • In 2013-14 there were 500 000 apprenticeship starts

  • In 2013-14 850 000 people were earning and learning while doing an apprenticeship

  • There are typically over 25000 apprenticeships being advertised online at any one time.

Why have apprenticeships grown so quickly?

I put it down to three things -

  • Underlying historical demand for vocational training courses as oppossed to academic learning – The UK has had a large NEET population (16-24 year olds not in employment, education or training) for over a decade now, which suggests there has been a signficant demand for alternative pathways to employment other than courses offered in colleges.

  • The recent government ‘pincer movement’ on young people – 18 year olds are now (since 2015) required to be in some kind of employment, and combined with the government clamp down on benefits for young people, this means they have fewer options.

  • Government support for employers – The government invested £1.5 billion in apprenticeships in 2014-15 and from 2016 will exempt employers from paying National Insurance Contributions for under 25 year olds. Basically government support makes it cheaper to hier apprentices.

What are the benefits of apprenticeships?

Firstly, looked at statistically, they seem to offer economic benefits to most apprentices, employers and the economy more generally – Mainly taken from the ONS web site….

  • 90% of apprentices stay in employment after the apprenticeship has finished.

  • 70% stay on with the same employer.

  • 19% of level three apprentices advance on to Higher Education.

  • Businesses report an increase in productivity of £214/ week when they hire apprentices (which effectively means they cost the average company nothing given the low wages!).

  • Small businesses get a £1500 grant towards the start up costs of New Apprenticeships if they employ 16-24 year olds. (Any training costs for 16-19 year olds are, possibly obviously, covered by the government.)

  • For every pound of government investment in apprenticeships, the economy gets £18 – £28 back (estimates vary).

  • Apprenticeships were estimated to contribute £34 billion to the UK economy in 2014

Secondly, they diversify the education system – offering a much greater choice of training opportunities by a much wider range of providers than Further and Higher education providers could ever hope to provide.

Thirdly (and I need to look into this further to verfiy it) they seem to be offering a very real alternative for young people who would otherwise be NEET (16-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training) because there is a distinct correlation between the increase in apprenticeships (mostly taken up by 16-24 year olds) and the recent decrease in the number of NEETs. (Of course correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but in this case I think it’s pretty safe to conlude that it does!)

What are the downsides of Apprenticeships?

You wouldn’t think there were any judging by the ONS site, but if you dif around there are those who voice some legitimate criticisms of Modern Apprenticeships

Firstly: Apprenticeships might really about firms getting cheap labour:

Kathy Glover from The New Left Project points out that it’s cheaper for an employer to hire an apprentice than someone qualified – Glover cites one case study of an estate agent who sacked most of their staff in order to replace them with cheaper apprentices. Not only is this bad for the experienced, sacked staff, it’s difficult to see how a cohort of apprentices can learn anything without any more experienced people to.

There is also some evidence that the Engineering sector in the UK is preferring cheaper apprentices over already qualified people.

Also, the number of in-work training programmes have reduced by about 250 000 in recent years, which suggests that work places are simply shifting their training onto apprenticeships – meaning the government pays for it rather than them paying for it, in which case apprenticeships aren’t about more training, there just about the tax payer paying for it, not the employer.

Secondly: Apprenticeships don’t necessarily lead on to real jobs:

Firms are not oblliged to take apprentices on full time after their training period and it’s cheaper for an employer to hire a string of apprentices for one-two years at a time rather than to take someone on.

The rapid expansion of more apprenticeships might even harm the wider job market in certain sectors – Glover cites UK manufacturing, which despite declining employment in recent years, has greatly increased the number of apprenticeshps – BAE systems, for example, has expanded its apprenticeships programme by 25%. This must mean decreased demand for already qualified people.

Thirdly: Apprenticeships are really about saving the government money

Kathy Glover points out that Apprenticeships allow the government to cut costs because it is much cheaper for them to pay a couple of thousand pounds or so to an employer for a year rather than to have a young person on unemployment benefit.

The problem with this is that it might mean that some people on apprenticeships are worse off than when they were on benefits. She uses the case study of Michael, 16, from Liverpool, employed at a large charity shop through the retail apprenticeship scheme to illustrate this:

“I work 37.5 hours a week for £100 a week with around 20 other staff, most of who are on some sort of work placement or volunteers. My auntie, who I live with, has lost around £70 a week in benefits due to me going on this apprenticeship because I’m now classed as being in full-time employment. The council has done things like deduct £3 per week from her housing benefit which I’ve been told I must now pay. I don’t get any separate travel expenses so I’ve also got to pay for the two hours travel per day out of my wages. By me going on this apprenticeship we’re worse off than when I was in college so I’m considering leaving the scheme and going back into education.”

Fourthly, Modern Apprenticeships remain heavily gender stereotyped

For example, females take up 94% of positions in early years childcare but only 1 and 2% respectively in construction and plumbing. All other sectors also conform to gener stereotypes.

Average wages for apprenticeships also vary between males and females – for males the average is £186 compared to females who earn on average £147 per week (2007 figures). This is because the sectors where females dominate are the lowest paid (such as early years childcare), and have little scope for career progression, so are mainly level 2 and 3 apprenticeships. The sectorts where men dominate tend to offer apprenticeships which are higher paid and offer greater career progession, onto level 4 apprenticeships for example – in sectors such as engineering and IT.

Fifthly, in some sectors the training you receive may be of a very low standard

Only 22% of apprenticeships in customer service and 13% in hospitality and catering are offered at level 3, and a retail or customer service needs to only complete a minimum of two hours training a week.

Tess Lanning of the IPPR suggests that this is because Government targets to increase the number of apprenticeships, combined with a lack of interest from many employers, have led to a watering down of what constitutes an apprenticeship. Labour widened apprenticeships to include level 2 qualifications, which evidence suggests have little to no value in the labour market, and opened them up to adults, meaning they have lost their purpose as a tool to prepare young people for entry into the labour market.

Apprenticeships: Should you do one?

I guess this depends on what sector you’re loooking at – If you’re interested in Engineering then it’s probably worth spending a bit more time researching your options than if you were interested in going into retail or hospitality…

The Apprenticeships Self-Development Pack for young people is designed by the government for you to work through to see if an Apprenticeship is for you – Warning – This links pretty much exlcusively to the government’s own propaganda videos about how great apprenticeships are and oozes ‘careers advisory document’ out of every pore, and yes there is the dreaded skills assessment excercise at one point too.

I wouldn’t say don’t work through the above, but I guess the real question isn’t so much should you do an apprenticeship (assuming you don’t want to go to university), the question should be ‘do you have any other choice’ – given that you’d be nuts as employer to not set up an apprenticeship.

Further Reading/ Sources used

Apprenticeships: Fact Sheet for Parents (the best introductory summary sheet I’ve found on the topic but warning – complete lack of critical content!)

Facts, Figures and Statistics about Apprenticeships – Does what is says – The main source I’ve used for any statistical information above.

The Youtube Apprenticeship Channel – featuring apprentices and employers talking about the advantages of apprentiships (warning – complete lack of critical content!)#

Further Education and Skills: Learner Participation and Outcomes

Also see links in the document above.

Marketisation – bringing out the worst in the middle classes

This documentary (The School Scandal: Playing the System, BBC1 August 2015) shows the lengths parents will go to in order to get their children into the top performing state schools in London.

Some of the schools shown have 10 applications for every place, and catchment areas of just a few hundred meters, meaning competition for these places is fierce to say the least.

It seems that middle class parents are basically prepared to commit fraud in order to make applications to the best schools, demonstrated by the following two strategies:

  1. Renting accommodation temporarily in the school catchment area while still having a main residence outside of the catchment area (this is fraudulent btw!)
  2. ‘Pew jumping’ (a term I’d never heard before) – where parents attend church for a year or two just to get their kids into a church school – here a vicar with a spread sheet demonstrates that at one point 11 out of his 23 church attendants basically stopped attending straight after school offers day – clearly they weren’t there to worship a god!

The show follows two case studies of parents trying to get their kids into their local schools – depressingly we see the screamingly middle class parents (dad’s a doctor, mum teaches in a private school) breaking out the champers as they get their child into their first choice local school, while the not so well-off (but by no means poor!) parents fail to get their child into their local church school, despite the fact that the mother had attended the church for 23 years.

The documentary ends up lamenting the fact that the system is clearly unfair – and it’s likely to carry on that way because to date there have been no prosecutions for middle class parents defrauding the system.

NB – This isn’t the only way middle class parents try to reproduce class inequality…. See here for an overview of how this works in the grander scheme of things…

Sociological Theories of Consumerism and Consumption

consumerism and consumptionMany of us spend a lot of time thinking about the things we might consume, and how we might consume them, and we do this not only as individuals, but as friends, partners, and families, and so intensely do we think about our consumption practices that the things we buy and the experiences we engage which are linked to them become invested with emotional significance and central (crutches) to our very identities.

The consumption of goods and services is so thoroughly embedded into our ordinary, everyday lives that many aspects of its practice go largely unquestioned – not only the environmental and social consequences have got lost on the way, but also they very notion that consumption itself is a choice, and that, once our basic needs are met, consumption in its symbolic sense is not necessary and thus is itself a choice.

In sociological terms one might say that contemporary reflexivity is bounded by consumption – that is to say that most of the things most of us think about in life – be they pertaining to self-construction, relationship maintenance, or instrumental goal-attainment, involve us making choices about (the strictly unnecessary) things we might consume.

Even though I think that any attempt to achieve happiness through consumption will ultimately result in misery, I would hardly call anyone who tries to do so stupid – because all they are going is conforming to a number of recent social changes which have led to our society being based around historically high levels of consumption.

There are numerous explanations for the growth of a diverse consumer culture and thus the intense levels of unnecessary symbolic consumption engaged in by most people today – the overview taken below is primarily from Joel Stillerman (2015) who seems to identify five major changes which underpin recent changes in consumption since WW2.

The first explanation looks to the 1960s counter culture which despite having a reputation for being anti-consumerist, was really more about non-conformity, a rejection of standardised mass-consumption and promoting individual self expression. Ironically, the rejection of standardised consumption became a model for the niche-marketing of today, much of which is targeted towards people who wish to express themselves in any manor of ways – through clothing, music, foodism, craft beers, or experiences. Some members of the counter culture in fact found profit in establishing their own niche-consumer outlets, with even some Punks (surely the Zenith of anti-consumerism?!) going on to develop their own clothing brands.

A second discussion surrounding the normalisation of consumerism centres around changes in the class structure, following the work Bourdieu and Featherstone (2000). Basically these theorists see the intensification of consumption as being related to the emergence of the ‘new middle classes’ as a result of technological innovations and social changes leading to an increase in the number of people working in jobs such as the media and fashion.

Mike Featherstone focuses on what he calls the importance of ‘cultural intermediaries’ (who mainly work in the entertainment and personal care industries) who have adopted an ‘ethic of self-expression through consumption’ – in which they engage in self-care in order to improve their bodies and skills in order to gain social and economic capital.

The values of these early adopters has gradually filtered down to the rest of the population and this has resulted in the ‘aestheticisation of daily life’ – in which more and more people are now engaged in consumption in order to improve themselves and their social standing – as evidenced in various fitness classes, plastic surgery, and a whole load of ‘skills based’ pursuits such as cookery classes (yer signature bake if you like).

A third perspective focuses on individualisation – as advanced by the likes of Zygmunt Bauman and Ulrich Beck.

ishop

In their view, after World War II, universal access to higher education and social welfare benefits in Europe led to the erosion of traditional sources of identity provided by family, traditional authority, and work. Today, individuals are ‘free’ from the chains of external sources of identity, but this freedom comes at a price. Individuals are now compelled to give meaning to their lives without the certainty that they are making the right choice that in the past had come from tradition. Individuals are forced to be reflexive, to examine their own lives and to determine their own identities. In this context, consumption may be a useful vehicle for constructing a life narrative that gives focus and meaning to individuals.

As I’ve outlined in numerous blog posts before, Bauman especially sees this is a lot of work for individuals – a never ending task, and a task over which they have no choice but to engage in (actually I disagree here, individuals do have a choice, it’s just not that easy to see it, or carry it through!).

Fourthly, Post-modern analyses of consumption focus on the increasing importance of individuals to consumption. Building on the work of Lytoard etc. Firat and Venkatesh (1995) argue that changes to Western cultures have led to the erosion of modernist ideas of progress, overly simplified binary distinctions like production and consumption and the notion of the individual as a unified actor. They suggest that in contemporary societies production and consumption exist in a repeating cycle and retail cites and advertiser have increasingly focussed on producing symbols which individuals consume in order to construct identities.

These changes have led to increasing specialising of products and more visually compelling shopping environments, and F and V argue that these changes are liberating for individuals and they seek meaning and identity through consumption, which they can increasingly do outside of markets.

Fifthly – other researches have looked at the role of subcultures in contemporary society, where individuals consume in order to signify their identity as part of a group, and doing so can involve quite high levels of consumption, even if these groups appear quite deviant (McAlexander’s 1995 study of Harley Davidson riders looks interesting here, also Kozinet’s study of Star Trek fans).

Something which draws on numbers 3,4 and 5 above is the concept of consumer tribes (developed by Cova et al 2007) which are constantly in flux, made up by different individuals whose identities are multiple, diverse and playful – individuals in fact may be part of many tribes and enter and exit them as they choose.

Finally, Stillerman points out that underlying all of the above are two important background trends

  • Firstly, there are the technological changes which made all of the above possible – the transport links and the communications technologies.
  • Secondly there is the (often discussed) links to the global south as a source of cheap production.

Very finally I’m going to add in one more thing to the above – underlying the increase in and diversification of consumption is the fact that time has sped up – in the sense that fashions change faster than ever and products become obsolete faster than ever – hence putting increasing demands on people to spend more time and money year on year to keep up on the consumer treadmill….

So there you have it – there are numerous social trends which lie behind the increase in and diversification of consumption, so the next time you think you’re acting as an individual when you’re getting your latest tattoo, maybe think again matey!

Related Posts 

Consuming Life (Bauman, 2007) – A Summary of Chapter One

 

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book?

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Retirement Cover5

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On giving up screens, meditating, and the importance of ‘not doing’

Because of my slight obsession with Forest Gardens and compost heated showers (and LOTS more on those later) I’ve been using the Internet more than usual recently and it’s definitely having a negative impact on my state of mind – I’ve been feeling less in control of my life and distracted. It’s not just the lame personal advertising (and if I’ve just bought something, no I probably don’t want a duplicate immediately afterwards!) but also the distraction to other places, the Pointillism to coin a phrase used by Zygmunt Bauman – I start somewhere and end up somewhere else…. Fine if I’m allowing myself time to do this, but not if I have a purpose in mind first.

The last descreen/ meditation period I did was back in January of this year, and when I contrast my state of mind now to how I was back then when I was meditating 4 times a day, I was so much more centred : my basic rules were no screens in the morning or evening, except a quick email check, or if writing something specific. No idle surfing, no watching TV over dinner, and then basically an evening routine which went something like:

  • Eat dinner
  • Tidy
  • Meditate
  • Read if you must, preferably about Buddhism
  • Yoga
  • Meditate

Obviously I’m not against the use of the internet or screens, I am well aware that connectivity is necessary and even advantageous in my line of work, and the net’s great for new ideas, speed of access to info and the dreaded self-promotion. However I defo need to restrict it because it encourages all of the following negative traits:

  1. It leaves no real time for actual people (not that I’m that into people anyway)

  2. It encourages me to take a superficial approach to knowledge rather than a deep approach

  3. It scatters my mind, it pulverizes my attention into tiny moments, leaving me adrift in an anomic sea of montage.

  4. It exposes me to the great evil empire of advertising.

(Actually reading that lot perhaps I should just disconnect altogether?!?)

Because of the extreme negative traits uncontrolled net use encourages in me, I’ve developed the following guidelines to restrict my usage of it, and in order to promote mindful living! By screens below I really mean ‘net use’ – (I’m currently writing this off line, so this wouldn’t count for example).

  1. Remember the ideal of the concentrated Buddha – Remember that I don’t need this internet shit!

  2. Limit the amount of time online – Structure my day so it begins and ends without screens, and live the majority of time off-screen. This actually easier said than done given that my job involves a lot of screen use, so all I’ve got left is to make sure that the vast majority of time not at work is spent off-screen. To this end I’m endeavoring to check personal emails no more than twice a day (and respond to them) and try and have 30 mins of screen time in the evenings and at wknds max. In the holidays I’m going to try for 3/4 days totally offline.

  3. Before going online I must have a clear purpose, a list of specific tasks I want to fulfill. I’m also going to time my usage to keep it down.

  4. When online only have one window open at a time, unless I’m specifically cutting and pasting/ adapting.

  5. Switch off PC and iPad at the end of the day and keep in the office, not the bedroom or living room.

Having written this, I feel more mindful already, and if yer reading this online, then see you not so soon in the future…

Making Compost

While I’m quite pleased with the productivity of my allotment so far this year, I’m putting way to much effort into maintaining the beds – what with watering, weeding and feeding.

What I should be doing is spending much more time on prepping the beds by building compost/ sowing green manures and mulching, and when I say ‘much more time’ I’ve realised (through doing a lot digging excuse the pun) that I need to spend hours, if not days, procuring the raw materials to make said compost and mulch.

In short, rather than spending a 20% of my time prepping soil and then 80% maintaining, I need to invert this ratio – I need to put 80% of my time into compost/ soil prep/ mulching which should then mean much less time maintaining, and this should also mean less effort overall, and thus greater productivity.

I’m getting into it – Here’s my latest compost pile, consisting of about 20 barrow loads of woodchip and then a similar amount of manure, grass clippings and just weeds – and loadsa water…..

woodchip compost

It reached 48 degrees within no time (It actually went up to 54 but I didn’t have my camera on me.)

20150630_175717

Inspiration for all of this has primarily come from the wonderful Back to Eden Documentary which features the amazing garden of Paul Gautschi whose main source of compost is wood chips, pure and simple – He put down a 15″ layer on his orchards decades ago, has topped it up every year (most years?), and now he can dig down to his elbow and still find a moist loam more than a foot down.

For his regular beds he uses compost derived from chucking a range of kitchen wastes and weeds to his chickens – He basically just chucks everything into the chicken pen and they just eat it all and scratch it all up – and the end result is a rich compost which you can plant straight into.

Another good example of wood chip gardening is in this video.

Here it’s recommended that you use rock dust and mushroom spores to compost the wood chips quicker, and it seems you get an OK compost after just one year, otherwise with just pure wood chips you’re looking at three years for the stuff at the bottom to start turning into something resembling compost (obviously the finer the grade of woodchip, the faster the whole process).

What I see as a more ‘classic’ way of building compost is demonstrated by Geoff Lawton in this video – basically straw and manure plus a few other bits. This involves a bit more effort than woodchip, but it is super quick as the product is finished in a matter of weeks. (NB the video below isn’t the actual video I wanted (I couldn’t find it again!) but it’s of a very sound guy explaining a similar method…)

For me, a much more accessible way of composting is provided in this TED talk, the simple message of which is ‘shred your leaves and save them’, that’s all you need.

Finally, something else which also appeals to me is using bioochar – Although the biochar burner I’ve built is total rubbish in that it doesn’t work. Back to the drawing board with that I guess.

NB – One final thing I need to mention is the Jean Pain compost method – this guy constructs a compost heap from wood chippings so enormous that he’s able to generate sufficient heat for his house and water for 18 months from one pile, and enough gas (generated by putting a sealed vat of cow manure in the middle) to cook with and power his truck, although I’m sure the Health and Safety police would have something to say about the later if you tried it in the UK today.

Obviously I’m not really in a position to build such an enormous heap, but I’m working on composting on a smaller scale…

Ongoing compost experiments on my allotment.

I only have easy access to certain materials on my allotment, and not having a van doesn’t help acquisition of industrial amounts of material. However, I am actually quite fortunate in that I do have easy access to all of the following, and so have piles of these ‘raw materials’ on my plot.

  • LEAVES – There are lots of nearby trees, so if I can get over the slight self-conscious feeling of scrapping the nearby cycling path in autumn I can get barrow loads of leaves.

  • WOODCHIP – A local tree-surgery company has very recently taken to dumping woodchip on the allotment. I think they may be doing this on the sly but whoever they are, THANKS!

  • HORSE MANURE – We also get horse manure delivered.

  • GRASS CLIPPINGS – somewhat obviously

  • FOOD/ PLANT WASTE

  • WEEDS

  • WOOD for BIOCHAR (*although this needs burning in advance!).

Piles of these materials will all rot down of their own accord, but what I’ve learnt from the above videos is that the whole process can be sped up a lot by combining the above ingredients in a variety of ways. I’m guessing one of the combinations below will give me an ideal blend in terms of both quality and speed of finished product.

Present compost blends -

  1. Woodchip (sieved), horse manure, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

Planned future experiments

  1. Shredded* leaves, horse manure, food waste, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

  2. Biochar, horse manure, grass clippings, existing compost/ dirt

As I see it there are two majorly major advantages of having a healthy obsession with dirt -

Firstly, in the long term this is the most efficient way of gardening – OK it is a lot of effort sourcing and and compiling the materials, and you need some patience while it all rots down, but after a few years you’ll end up with the most amazingly rich soil, and maintenance in terms of weeding and watering should be much reduced because soil will be less compacted because of continual layering/ mulching.

Secondly, from a land-ethics point of view regenerating the earth after years of depletion seems like a pretty good life-purpose to me.

And talking about life, or rather the end of it – There is something very comforting about working with dirt, in that becoming one with it (i.e. Rotting) will be, after all, my final destination. Yours too!

(* I’m going to try shredding using a few bits of wire attached to a long drill bit, if not I’ll fall back on using a petrol strimmer I part own.)

On Permaculture as a Low-Cost Lifestyle

I’ve just spent half an hour perusing the Annual Monitoring Report for Tir y Gafel Ecovillage (aka Lammas).

I don’t imagine this would float a lot of boats, but as I expected it’s striking just how low their outgoings are. Here’s the annual figures for what I’m assuming must be the two single person households on site (given that they’re a lot lower than the other households).

Plot C Plot F
Cost of need Met from land Cost of need Met from land
domestic wood use £650.00 £650.00 £300.00 £245.00
domstic gas use £108.00 £0.00 £90.00 £0.00
domestic electricity use £1,291.00 £1,291.00 £1,168.00 £1,110.00
Water £506.00 £506.00 £385.00 £385.00
Food £3,466.00 £700.00 £1,800.00 £642.00
Phone £156.00 £0.00 £350.00 £0.00
clothes £0.00 £0.00 £40.00 £0.00
maintenance £0.00 £0.00 £35.00 £0.00
council tax £0.00 £0.00 £0.00 £0.00
transport £1,000.00 £0.00 £1,000.00 £0.00
Expenditure met from land* £3,147.00 £2,382.00
£ from land based enterprises £1,700.00 £1,740.00
Totals £7,177.00 £4,847.00 £5,168.00 £4,122.00
Further monies required to break even £2,330.00 £1,406.00

*before income from land based enterprises is taken into account 

After housing costs (which are not included above) we have two annual expenditure figures of £7K and £5K, with THE single largest expenditure item being on food, which here includes alcohol and munchies (which is odd given that food growing is one of the key things Lammas seems to do.)

Expenditure is clearly kept incredibly low by virtue of electricity being generated on site through burning wood and use of other renewable sources and transport being minimal due to mainly working on site, as well as the fact that above two people must live in caravans given the zero figure for council tax.

There are items which are not included in the above table, but no matter, what this data strongly suggests is that once you’ve got your mortgage paid off you can get by on £5-7K in a year as a base income, and this comes down to £2-3 K a year if you can get your own electricity generated on site.

A final advantage shown by this example is that it is clearly possible to generate some (albeit limited) money from rural enterprise.

I’m actually staggered by the above figures. I mean, I always knew low-impact living significantly reduced dependence on money, but this has surprised me… £2-3K a year is really a startling figure, actually £5-7K a year is pretty good.

At some point I’ll add in how this compares to my own expenditure and insane (consumerism as usual expenditure).

The question in the meantime is simply one of how can I get a piece of this action and how soon, just without the community bit, in which case apparently it’s not really Permaculture, but then again I’m sure the definition’s open for debate (at least as long as you don’t want to formally use it to engage in the Permaculture Pyramid selling scheme.)

Early Retirement Extreme June Update Analysis II

Or on how getting into early-retirement makes you dislike the curiously ordinary life of the worker-consumer even more intensely, and how it makes you hate yourself for any remaining traces of normality.

When I started out nearly 12 months ago I originally planned to work for another 7-8 years before ‘moving on’. However at some point over the last year I’ve become desperate to escape work, to the extent that I was, a couple of weeks back, looking to get out in 18 months. The interesting thing is that, on reflection, this urgency doesn’t have that much to do with work, which (although subjecting me to severe psychological abuse 200 days of the year) hasn’t got that much worse in the last 6 months. Thus my increased desire to escape it has probably got more to do with getting the ERE bug. I think the effect goes something like this -

  1. You set yourself an early retirement goal – In my case originally 52.

  1. You start recording in religious detail your expenditure and savings and getting a bit obsessive over the maths of early retirement.

  1. You realise that if you can shave 10% of your expenditure here and there then it means you can retire another year earlier, or 20% another 2 years early, and retiring at 48 sounds a whole lot better than retiring at 50, and 8 years sounds much better than 10.

  1. Saving everything you can means you have much less of a life than previously – there are less vents for the frustrations of work.

  1. (When you have little extra time after work) trying to generate second income streams proves largely fruitless in the grand scheme of things, this creates more stress.

  1. A stressful life means you want to get out!

  1. You start comparing yourself to other early retirement aspirees and get competitive, wanting to bring the key date down.

  1. Very importantly you realise the extent to which you’re being shafted by the system. These points are kind of in chronological order, but this is the most important one I think. This annoys you – a lot – my particular bug bears are interest on the mortgage and service charge on my flat.

  1. You start to look around for alternatives to get the above charges down and land-squatting comes up as the favorable option to be put into effect immediately – so this means you may as well jack in work and become a postmodern peasant asap. This doesn’t sound very appealing at the moment, which creates yet more stress.

In fairness, the original drive to retire early was brought on by the fact that my job is doing me severe psychological damage, and has also turned me into an agent which inflicts harm on others, and I will need to escape from in the medium term, but the job does come with good holidays and is well below my intellectual capacity to manage, and so I do have the mental capacity to cope with this abuse for another 5 years, especially when the income’s good and my original retirement model based on a 7-8 year projection (OK I have shortened it a little!) results in such a comfortable retirement, so I’m led to conclude that my recent desire to get out and retire even earlier is simply because of getting caught up in the goal of ERE, rather than accepting that my current situation is OK, and that a medium term plan is manageable. In short, I probably don’t need to ‘move on’ in 18 months.

Here’s a modified 5 year plan to address the above:

  1. I still want out in five (academic) years. I’ve calculated this means another 925 days at work from September next year. This is realistic, then I’ll downsize, move out of the area and go part time at age 47.

  1. Realise that I have no money to do anything and get into ‘doing nothing’ in the evenings – cleaning the flat, meditating,working the allotment, the odd Sociology blog, that’s it for the next five years.

  1. Abandon for now the second income streams most of them are too much like work(do these later) and instead focus on developing resilience (ie land squatting) skills. Work out a five year plan to develop these skills – this should be fun.

  1. Give up screens – Searching for alternatives means I’ve spent way too long on YouTube looking at compost showers and so on…. It’s doing my head in.

  1. Just chilax.

Early Retirement Extreme UK Update 2 – June 2015

Fingers crossed this formats OK, I just cut and paste the job-lot straight from Open Office, pictures and all.

End of June – And I’m now sixth months in to my 7-10 year plan to (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. This is the first of my intended 6 monthly updates, this allows enough time to show clear progress (hopefully rather than regress) and also these things to take quite a lot of time to review.

Executive Summary

  • Total Net Wealth gain of £13300 (since Februrary 2015)

  • Average total monthly expenditure not including mortgage – £903

  • Averge monthly savings of – £557

  • Average savings to expenditure ratio – 64% (if I include mortgage payments)

  • Overall I give myself 8/10 – For once I’m actually going to focus on the fact that I’m doing most things right, rather than the few things I could improve on.

Reminder of Original Long Term Financial Goals – Updates in Italics

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£137K outstanding)

  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.

I’m easily on track to do this in 10 years if I stay put in my flat in Surrey. However, the £140 I pay (in reality it’s probably more) towards service charge every month is becoming increasingly insulting, and so I’m looking at ‘downsizing’ to a house in a poorer area and commuting to work, possibly as soon as the end of 2016.

  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.

The ‘Land Fund’ is simply an investment account – I use Fundsmith, which I can thoroughly recommend – It’s now worth about £12K – and it gained £3K in value in the last 6 months – yes, that’s right, a 25% gain in 6 months – NB this isn’t a high risk fund, in fact, quite the opposite! Based on these figures I’m actually tempted just to leave it untouched and live off the income generated in my late 50s.

  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.

I‘ve done quite well here – my average overall savings each month is £577 – I put £200 into the ‘land fund’ so that means my overall ‘other savings’ work out at £377/ month without accumulations. I’ve actually got £17K kicking about which is enough (just) to buy a small piece of raw land already, although it is extremely rare to find exactly what I want for this kind of price. If I could double this to £30K I’d have much more chance.

NB The reason I keep banging on about land is because land squatting is a key part of my ERE strategy.

  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.

I’ve realised I am not realistically going to generate any significant second income streams in my spare time, basically because I don’t have any spare time. (It’s actually quite interesting that it’s taken me sixth months to realise this, or maybe it’s about acceptance – I can’t actually do any more than I’m already doing without compromising my mental health). Thinking about it, this amazing piece of insight might just be more valuable than any financial gains I’ve made.

  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

It’s not quite a no-brainer to keep paying into this, but it still makes sense. The amount I pay in has increased, and because of recent changes to the scheme I’m now stuck with a pension at 60 of around £7K/ year – everything I pay in from now on is not worth claiming until I’m 65 – If I claim my future contributions at 60, I lose 25% of the value of current and future contributions (what I’ve already got is protected, but then again I’m sure this could change under the nasties.)

Now onto the more detailed updates…

June Update One – Spending days compared to non-spending days

Early Retirement UK

I know it says nothing about how much I actually save/ spend but these are a great little invention! No spending days have prevented me from buying several superfluous coffees, munchies, and stopped silly trips to Poundland and Wilkinson’s. I can’t put an exact figure on it but I reckon a saving of somewhere in the region of £20-50 a month?.

Jan-June 2015 Update Two – Expenditure and Savings Summary

  • Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 64%

  • Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 23%

NB For calculating the above savings to expenditure ratio I always count service charge (an outrageous £140/month) as ‘expenditure’ but for the first calculation I count mortgage payments as savings because in the future my flat will act as an investment which will bring in an income (while I squat in a field).

Technically I should count the interest part of this as expenditure and the repayment as investment, but honestly I can’t be bothered to work this out and recalculate it every month as the repayments change, so stuff that! Just reduce the figure by a few percentage points if you’re uncomfortable with it.

Early Retirement UK

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for entertainment rather than work).

  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’.

  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

January- June 2015 Update Three – Total average monthly expenditure excluding mortgage more detailed breakdown

This is really the headline figure – and it comes out at just over £900/ month, or £11K/ year – This is an honest account of how much I will need in retirement to live extremely comfortably. The service charge is something which is going to disappear hopefully very soon, but I figure the future cost of running a van which I currently don’t have will come out around the same amount of £140 a month, maybe more, so I’ll stick with £900 a month to live off.

Early Retirement UK

Of course if I can pull off a land-squat my services costs will fall drastically, as will my food costs, so all of this could come down to nearer £5-600 in future. Whether that’s sustainable or not remains to be seen!

NB – The obvious immediate area for improvement besides service charge (PAIN!) is beer, I intend to hammer this down from September.

January Update 4 – Total Net Wealth

Well I’ve gained £13300 in 5 months – I’m happy with that, hence the 8/10!

This is what it’s all about! Remember, £200K is enough to semi-retire on! IMO anyone who already has more than £200K of TNW and is still in full-time work either really likes working, or if that isn’t the case suffers from a compulsive disorder (addicted to over-consumption) and/ or lacks imagination.

I don’t feel particularly comfortable posting details about my TNW, but it comes in at £101K including property – Half way to what I need. Rapidly may this increase!!!

It’s kind of comforting to know that that’s enough to buy some kind of Quinta in Portugal – I’ve even taken off £4K from the figure to factor in a contribution to selling up and moving on in case it comes to that! It also doesn’t include a small emergency fund I’ve got stashed away.

So all in all, I’m on track to achieve my ERE goals, I could do better, but I think this not so extreme route to retirement (land squatting aside) is sustainable!

If you like this sort of thing – then why not my book which is more focused on early retirement in the UK?

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner, or A Critique of Curiously Ordinary Life of the Everyday Worker-Consumer

Available on iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble – Only £0.63 ($0.99)

extreme early retirement

Also available on Amazon, but for £1.99 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!

Permaculture as an Alternative to Consumer Culture

I’ve been thinking a lot about the viability of Permaculture as an alternative to the consumerist mode of existence recently.

Permaculture is the practice of working with nature to design efficient, productive ecosystems, incorporating the principles of sustainability and fare-shares. The Permaculture Association (The Permaculture Association n.d.) suggests that there are three main aspects to Permaculture – Firstly there is an ethical framework, secondly the principle of understanding nature, and finally a design approach to working with nature.

As always a few examples are the best way of illustrating what Permaculture actually is…

Firstly I recommend checking out the case of Lammas. Based in Pembrokeshire, on about 75 acres of land, this is one of the few fully legitimate (in planning terms) eco-projects in the U.K. It combines the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology and Permaculture. The ecovillage was granted planning permission in 2009 by the Welsh Government and is currently part-way through the construction phase. The current residents aim to bring in £100K per year from the land, up from £2500 from the previous tenant farmer’s sheep farming.

Tinkers Bubble is another famous (in eco-circles) example of 9 adults living on 28 acres of land living in self-built low impact dwellings. Very similar to the above, but just on a smaller scale.

A more individualistic example, and an absolute classic in eco-circles, is Tony Wrench’s Low impact roundhouse – built over a decade ago in Pembrokeshire National Park and (after a huge struggle) granted retrospective planning permission. This example proves what you can do with £3000, if you happen to have an appetite for a ruck with the planners.

For further inspiration, the Permaculture Network provides plenty of links to some pretty inspiring examples of Permaculture Projects which range from your squatting type examples such as Yorkley Farm in the Forest of Dean to basically people’s back gardens. (37)

Finally, I highly recommend Permaculture Magazine (with an international circulation of over 100K) which has the acolade of being my favourite all-time bath time reading material.

To what extent is Permaculture a viable solution to Consumerist Culture….?

In short, I’d argue that Permaculture is one of lynch pins of an alternative culture which is not based around consumption, but rather ‘co-production’ with nature. This diverse movement is full of innovators who focus on producing their own food, energy and to an extent goods using sustainable and creative techniques adapted to local environments, so rather than consumption being focused on, this seems to be about going back to production, and the way things are produced (sustainable) as a unifying principle.

Given the DIY nature of the Permaculture movement it is possible to spend the rest of your natural life learning (both intellectually and practically) about aspects of living sustainably – If you ever managed to get your head around everything to do with planting a food-forest, then you can move onto aquaculture systems, low-impact building or small-scale off grid energy systems – If you get the bug there is easily a lifetime’s worth of exploration, non of which is based around consumption.

(It may not be your thing of course, but personally I find all of this fascinating.)

Obviously there are limitations to what Permaculture can do – It can easily be criticised for being retreatist in the light of global problems such as militarism, the refugee crisis and the ethical challenges of multiculturalism; and possibly a bigger problem is just how middle class the movement is – besides efforts to big up ‘Urban’ Permaculture and reports of Permaculture in the developing world in the UK at least your only option to really do full on Permcaulture is to either risk your capital in a collective venture such as Lamas or find approx. £30-40K yourself, buy some land and prepare yourself for an almighty ruck with local Nimbys, not to mention the anachronistic weight of the UK planning system.

On Grazing the Allotment as a Dinner Strategy

Maintaining an allotment with a full time job is a challenge. Although I do love planning and sowing and planting, watering (in the early morning), even weeding, TBH I find the process of stopping off after work and harvesting and processing the food before dinner quite tedious.

It’s not so much the actual digging up and picking, that’s quite enjoyable, it’s that plus the shelling and washing before cooking that just makes the whole process simply too time-consuming for it to be enjoyable.

So I’ve hit on a new evening eating strategy – Instead of harvesting, processing and cooking I’ve switched to grazing and eating immediately as I harvest except for those things which need cooking, which I then take back, wash and just cook up with some salt or soy sauce and that’s dinner. For those things which I think need washing, I just put them in a colander and run them under the tap, everything else which is most things I just eat straight.

It’s a bit weird – Today I started with the radishes – some of which had got a bit large, so I just ate all the non-woody bits and chucked the rest on the compost, then I moved onto the Kale, which was delicious, and the one small head of broccoli which the slugs hadn’t demolished (honestly, freshly picked broccoli more than anything else tastes completely different to the stuff you buy, it’s actually completely different and not even comparable, just a shame it’s so difficult to grow).

Then onto the mange tout, which is again another world when freshly picked, before moving on to some spring onions and lettuce/ chard and spinach, as well as picking some for tomo’s lunch box, before moving onto the strawberries, also saving some for later as there were too many to eat in one sitting/ standing/ bending down/ whatever you want to call it.

I also picked shed loads of broad beans and cooked them up at home with a bit more kale I’d saved.

I’d hoped to have some new potatoes by this time – but I’m reluctant to dig them up because having tickled them they seem a bit small – I think I over-nitrogened the soil.

Anyway, although eating in this way feels a bit nuts, it’s actually completely sane when you reflect on the following massive advantages –

1. Time efficiency – It saves time in terms of cooking, the ‘sit down meal’ and the washing up, also it does tend to mean you maintain the allotment while eating, picking off the odd weed for example.

2. It’s the cheapest way to eat – Theoretically, if you could just get used to just grazing, there’s no need to spend money on what Michael Pollan would call ‘edible food like substances’.

3. Health benefits – The fresher, the higher the nutrient content – You can’t get much fresher than two seconds from picking to mouth.

4. It’s the most natural and ethical way to eat – in that it’s the furthest removed from the industrial-food chain.

5. It gives me this strange sense of connection with the !Kung Bushmen of the Khalari and other traditional hunter-gatherer tribes – completely unfounded I know, but in my deluded little head I feel in-touch with my pre-historic self.

6. I actually like the fact that it’s a slightly nuts way to eat – It’s habit breaking. For example I can’t watch TV while I’m grazing, well I guess I could with a 4G iPad, but honestly, it’d hardly be ergonomic.

Incidentally I wish I had some nuts, that’d make the whole grazing process even more wonderful, or at least it would in the late autumn, assuming the squirrels are willing to share.

I’ve also been inspired to look up other inspiring examples of people who have set up the ultimate grazing gardens – here are a couple of examples….

Paul Gautschi is one of the world’s most inspiring gardeners – In this excellent video: Back to Eden, Paul uses serious mulch, mostly wood-chip which has turned into the most amazing compost and produces the most amazing quality looking fruit and veg for (after you’ve set it all up!) minimal effort. There’s some great grazing footage at about 1 hr 25 (NB – It is freely available on Vimeo if you click the link!)

Back To Eden OFFICIAL FILM from Dana & Sarah Films on Vimeo.
I’m using this as a model for my allotment, and am now trying to spend at least 60% of my time building compost rather than maintaining (I think the ratio should be higher, but I’ve got to be realistic!)

 

Closer to home, I’ve never been but one of the most interesting, and possibly largest examples of a food forest is Plants for a Future, established by Ken and Addy Fern many years ago.There’s footage of Ken grazing his ‘garden for all purposes’ from about 16 minutes in.


(NB the first section’s worth watching too – on the classic forest-garden of Robert Hart.)

Anyway, I don’t want to get lost in Forest gardening, I haven’t quite got enough money to buy the land to go there yet – The point of the videos is that they’re good examples of other people who graze, and on a much larger scale than me, and that proves I’m not nuts, I think.

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement