My Moneyless (more or less) March Manifesto

My Moneyless (more or less) March Manifesto

So far this year I’ve spent far too much time putting my money where my mouth is, via shitty food, beer and way too many take-out-coffees, so my aim in March is leave my money in the bank and go moneyless, more or less.

There are three/ four reasons I’m doing this:

  1. To save money to try and keep my goal of being able to semi-retire by 48 on track.

  2. To practice the kind of money-restricted lifestyle I’ll need to transition to in later life if I am going to retire early (anything after 53 for full-on retirement I would regard as a total failure, unless I cave in and decide to go part-time at work before I turn 48).

  3. I need to get back to some serious self-discipline after a fairly slack winter.

  4. It feels right – spring is coming, it’s lighter, and this coming half term is only five weeks long – and I’ve got 3/5 Friday’s off teaching, so only 2 full weeks – NICE!

I say more or less because I’m going to make the following exceptions:

  • Any outgoings I’ve already got going out – Which in somewhat contradictory-fairness is a lot of money. So a more honest title for this post might be a ‘disposable-income-left-after-outgoings-less experiment – but it doesn’t alliterate so nicely. My justification is that my ERE strategy is presently best facilitated by my remaining locked-in to the money system for a few more years because of my reasonably high salary and ludicrous rate of equity gain on my mortgaged-flat. Hence it only makes sense to experiment with the money I’ve got left over after mortgage repayments and the utilities I need to pay by virtue of living a non-off-grid salary man lifestyle.

  • I’m going to buy simple, cheap, food – but I’m only going to allow myself to buy the following: Fruit – apples and pears, peppers, tomatoes, olives (I do so love olives!); Veg – celery, carrots, spring greens, onions; milk, cheese, butter and eggs, beans and tinned tomatoes/ paste, tea bags, grain staples – cereals, rice, pasta, couscous, spreads – honey and Mar-mite, walnuts, maybe some pumpkin seeds, and sultanas and dates and flour – to bake bread. I feel the need to bake bread. I mean I could spend two hours a week skip diving, but when I only need to spend £20 a week on food and I can earn than in an hour, it’s completely irrational to skip dive!>! I’ll do one shop, once a week on a Saturday.

  • I’ve got an INSET day in London in mid-March so I’ll need to spend £30 on train fair. Technically this isn’t coming out of my own pocket as I’ll be reimbursed, but it’s London, so I imagine I’ll do coffee on the way up and maybe a beer or two after. Call it a £10 exception to the rule. What can I say? I’m weak.

  • If I need anything for emergencies I’m damn well forking out. This is highly unlikely, but if, for example, a brake cable snaps on my bike, or a drill bit breaks when I’m building something (‘cos I’m a proper builder, me) I’ll replace them. Or if I get a little touch of man-flu I’ll buy myself some paracetamol. What can I say? I don’t like pain.

Wish me luck, and if you see me this March, please feel free (‘cos I certainly will be) to take me out and buy me a pint, or two or four, or a coffee and almond croissant.

I’m not fussy, at least if you’re buying, but I do prefer ale rather than shitty lager, and I might even return the favour, in April.

Cheers! Here’s to a money-free March 2016, more or less.

Four Options for Quitting Work in my 40s

I’m getting a bit sick of my job – It’s a lot to do with the job, but also probably to do with being 42, and with it being January (at the time of writing this).

Also, I’ve now given 15 years full time to ‘the man’. Enough is enough for Christ’s sake. That’s almost a 5th of my entire life.

My original early-retirement plans (in 2015) were to ‘hold-out’ in full-time employment for 7 years – by which time I could travel or transition easily, but the way things are going I might crack earlier, so I need a crack-up plan. NB I’m claiming this as a new concept – a back-up plan is something you have in case a new venture goes wrong (which implies risk taking). In my original early-retirement plan there is no real risk of it going wrong – I just stay in teaching for another 7 (now 6) years and save-hard. However the risk is that I go fucking nuts before the next 6 years are up, hence the need for a crack-up plan. If I feel my mental health deteriorating any more I’ll transition early. This is a post about my options.

It’s interesting to note that this is an indication of how truly awful the UK education system is – I work in a nice college, with nice kids and nice staff, and teach an interesting subject. In short, outside of the immoral private sector teaching doesn’t really get much easier than my job, but my job still makes me feel anxious and miserable and generally shit. This is the effect of the system constantly focussing on the negatives and always demanding more. This is the sub-optimal logic of performativity caused by the neoliberalisation of education. Life is not worth living as a teacher in a marketised education system. The only thing currently keeping me in it is the fact that I earn enough and am frugal enough to save down and get the hell out relatively early, which is something I advise anyone insane enough to go into teaching to do.

How much money I’ve currently got to play with

Current liquid -ish assets

£20K

Equity (-£5K sales shaft)

£110K

Total capital to play with

£130K

Other (approx)

£16K – Ring fenced for spending when I’m 58/9 (Hoping this will grow and extend into my early 50s)

The headline news is that I can already afford to buy a house outright in a cheap part of the UK, which means I could quit my job now, work part-time for the rest of my life and still probably fully retire in my mid-late 50s.

If I wait until 2018, things are a lot more comfortable, if I wait until 2021, that’s near enough sufficient for me to fully retire.

What I perceive to me my total array of practical options to escape work:

  1. Downsize to a small homestead/ croft somewhere else in the UK, or maybe Ireland, quit work and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.*

  2. Downsize to a cheaper house in the UK, rent it out to earn a small base income and travel/ do voluntary work abroad.

  3. Downsize to a cheaper house in he UK, rent it out to earn a base income, buy some land in Portugal and ‘do Permaculture’ and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.

  4. Downsize to a cheaper house in the UK and buy a houseboat, and figure out another way to earn money/ live without money, more or less.

  5. *I could do this, and then just stay at work and rent in the local area as a sort of ‘transition year’.

NB – It’s unlikely that any of the above will kick in for me until 2018, given the enormous housing bubble currently inflating in my local area, which I think it’s safe to ride it for a couple more years. 

NB – When I say live without money more or less, I spent a lot of time reading about freeganism this holiday – check out the previous post. 

Approximate Costings

Strategy

Initial Transition and capital costs

Additional Capital Required

Anticipated monthly expenditure

Buy a small homestead/ Croft UK

£150K House

£20K

£900.00

Downsize and travel

£160K

£150K property and £10K to kick-start travel fund

£30K

£200.00 – £1000

Downsize and buy land in Portugal

£200K

£150K House in UK

£50K Land and transition to Portugal

£70K

£700.00

Downsize and buy

House-Boat

£180K

£150K House

£30K Boat

£50k

£900.00

Option 1: Buy a small homestead (nearly) outright and earn money working part-time from home

One advantage of owning a two bedroom purpose-built flat in Surrey is that the flat’s worth a ludicrous amount of money, currently around £245K. With £130K left on the mortgage, and after the £5K cost of being shafted by the sales-system (which I could lower if I self-sold it), this would leave me with £110K in the bank. Plus the £20K I’ve currently got kicking around that leaves me with £130K.

With £130K I could actually buy outright a two-bed semi-detached house in Lincoln. I’ve never actually been to Lincoln, but it does seem to be the cheapest place in the UK that’s not a shit-hole where you can buy cheap property. Given that I grew up in a town that was a shit-hole and that I presently live in a town that’s not that dissimilar, Lincoln would probably be a step-up for me. There are probably other towns where you can buy relatively cheap, some may be better, and if you know of any candidates then do let me know!

Amazingly enough £130K would also be enough to outright-purchase a small bungalow in the highlands of Scotland on just under an acre of land. Add on £20K for updating the property and this would leave me with a mortgage of around £20K.

I figure that it doesn’t really matter where I live in the UK, but I do kind of fancy the Scottish Highlands. When all you want to do is grow vegetables, meditate, read Sociology books, and make your money online-tutoring who cares where you live? I figure the cheapest non shit-hole town/ rural location is best.

A £20K mortgage paid off over ten years would mean repayments of around £200/ month, add on my anticipated monthly costs of living @£700/ month = £900/ month income required to survive, which means I could live off a part-time income.

For every year extra I work, I’ll should have another £15K to play with, so if I do this in 2018 I can add £30K on and maybe even buy a nicer house. Also, I could buy for something a lot cheaper in Ireland, which is something I maybe need to explore more.

Option 2: Downsize and travel

This basically involves downsizing as outlined above, with all the attendant costs plus £10K to kick-start my travel fund.

The rental for a £150K ish property would be around £550/ month gross, which would come down to around £400 month net. Obviously whether I can live off this depends on what I can put up with ‘on the road’.

There are numerous people out there ‘budget travelling’ who demonstrate a range of possibilities viz how little money you can get by on. One of the most inspiring is Dan Suelo – The Moneyless Man – who has managed to survive without money for the last 16 years of his life, but I’d personally be more inclined to become the moneyless, more or less, man. Not as cool, I know, but I know myself. And I’m not cool, so that’s OK by me.

This option also opens up the possibility of buying a van (A converted VW Transporter or Mercedes Vito or something similar) and being more mobile (and obviously not money-free), which would ad about £10K to my overall transition costs.

Of course I could combine travelling with a variety of voluntary work and even paid work – time to dig out the TEFL qualification maybe?

Option 3: Buy a house in the UK outright and buy some land in Portugal; rent out the house and move to Portugal and ‘do Permaculture’.

This strategy involves buying some kind of cheap-ish property as in the other options above, but also buying land with a wreck in Central Portugal and then ‘doing Permaculture’ and self-building a small eco-house. I calculate that I’d need about £50K to very comfortably establish myself in Portugal – £30K for the land + a further £20K to transition over there. When I say ‘very comfortably’ – this includes one year’s worth of living costs while I get established + the cost of a van, and yurt.

The advantage of this would mean that I could rent out property in the UK one while I live in Portugal. The rental for a £150K ish property would be around £550/ month gross, which would come down to around £400 month net. This means that if I escaped immediately I’d have to find an additional £300/ month to pay for said property, but if I can hold out until 2018 then it should pay for itself, and after than it becomes an income-paying asset. So, somewhat unsurprisingly, the longer I can stick out my job, the easier my life is later.

I’ve looked at a fair few blogs by people who have done this, and as long as you’re careful to do everything right, it is possible to pick up some cheapish property in a couple of acres of land to renovate, actually for less than £30K. Central Portugal seems like the best bet.

The massive downside of this plan is that I’ve never been to Portugal, I’ve hardly spoken a word of Portuguese, and my earnings potential would be massively limited. I’ll take a holiday there at some point in the future, I’m sure I’ll like it.

On the ‘doing Permaculture’ front – I’m sure renting out property one is against the ethics of the movement, but I’m also sure, given the prevalence of middle class 50/60 somethings in the movement, that this is extremely common practice, just not something which people advertise freely.

As of February 2016 this is my preferred option for escaping work, hence why I’ve gone into the detail.

Total cost of buying a reasonable property outright in the UK

£150K

Total costs of buying land in Portugal and fully transitioning

£50K

Total Net Wealth Ready to Invest

£130K

Additional Capital Required to fully transition

2016 – £70K

2017 – £60K

2018 – £40K

2019 – £30K

2020 – £10K

Estimated monthly income required after property costs

£700.00

Add or Minus money I’d need to pay of outstanding mortgage/ rental income I’d receive

2016 – £300

2017 – £200

2018 – £000

2019 +£100 (need to earn £600/ month)

2020 +£300 (need to earn £400/ month)

Option 5 – Downsize and Buy a House Boat.

As above with downsizing, and then you can pick up a nice houseboat for £30K – I’ve added on £200/ month to cost of living to reflect costs such as licence fees, and mooring fees. This might actually be more. I’m not likely to do this in 2018, but living on a canal boat is just something I need to do for a period in my life at some point, thus I’m including it. Preferably I’ll be able to keep moving for much of the year to avoid the mooring fees!

In conclusion 

It is financially viable for me to quit my job this year and still retire early but it’s optimal in ERE terms to wait until 2021. A reasonable compromise in my noggin is to hold out until 2018.

Early Retirement Progress Update 2016

January 2016 And I’m now one year in to my 7-10 year plan to (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. This is the second 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 £27000 in 2015

  • Net wealth gain excluding equity – £9000

  • Average total monthly expenditure not including mortgage – £930

  • Average monthly savings of – £536

  • Average savings to expenditure ratio – 62% (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, YEARS COUNTED FROM JAN 2015. 

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£133K 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 BY 2018.

  • 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.

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

In analytical terms I now treat these the same. I’ve done quite well here – my average overall savings each month is £537 – I made the decision in November to shove £140/ month into teacher’s AVCs, I’ve now decided to reverse that – I can’t access them until I’m 55 – what was I thinking?

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 finally made some progress here – early days, more on this later as it develops.

  • 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…

January 2016 Update One – Spending days compared to non-spending days

Spend Non Spend 2015

It was going so much better up until December – but still – I won by 11 days!

Jan-June 2015 Update Two – Expenditure and Savings Summary

  • Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage –62% (down from 64% 6 month ave).

  • Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 21% (down from 23% 6 month ave).

ave monthly savings and expenditure

  • 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.

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.

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 £930/ 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. I’ve factored in £700 a month for my monthly retirement budget – this covers all of my necessities and allows £50 for ‘frivolities’ – so the idea is that Ill either need to suffer or do some kind of work to pay for me beers in retirement. Then again, that probably won’t be necessary as I’ll be enlightened by that point, and just naturally high on the joy of life.

average monthly expenditure 2015

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 £27K TNW in the last year, but most of that’s equity, only £9K gained not including equity – still, that’s enough accumulated in one year to live for approx 1 year and 1 month. 

I’ve basically got £32k to either go towards an early retirement fund or blow on some land to set up a land squat. Not bad for the end of year one!

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 – 

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!

Consuming Life, Zygmunt Bauman: A Summary of Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Collateral Casualties of Consumerism

The concepts of collateral damage and collateral casualties have become a central part of political discourse.

The concept of collateral damage is that when harm occurs as an unintended consequence of an action, then the person doing that action cannot be held legally or morally responsible. The divorcing of the two is fundamentally about encouraging a kind of moral blindness towards the victims.

One tool which the politicians have in their box to justify collateral damage is the difficulty of measuring the likely amount of it for any given conflict – It is as if by not calculating the likely ‘collateral damage’ (or at least not publicly sharing the calculations) then this is what enables the claim of unintentionality to be justified.

Bauman now argues that collateral damage occurs not only in the realm of military involvement but also in the extension of the market into more and more spheres of social life – and the ultimate form collateral damage here is the commoditisation of daily life…

In the words of J. Livingstone, ‘the commodity form penetrates and reshapes dimensions of social life hitherto exempt from its logic to the point where subjectivity itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold in the market as beauty, cleanliness, sincerity and autonomy.’

Arlie Russell Hochschild argues that the consumerist invasion into personal life has lead to the ‘materialization of love’:

Exposed to a continual bombardment of advertisements through a daily average of three hours of television (half of all their leisure time), workers are persuaded to ‘need’ more things.

To buy what they now need, they need money. To earn money, they work longer hours. Being away from home so many hours, they make up for their absence at home with gifts that cost money. They materialize love. And so the cycle continues.

For the top tier of knowledge workers, who spend long hours at work, employers go out of their way to make work environments homely, and one may experience a sense of home in workplace (albiet with your love relationship in your actual home kept going by commodities) – Whereas for the lower tier of workers, they are subjected to the very worst of Capitalism — Long working hours and insecure contracts, and not enough time to maintain meaningful relationships at home – and so for them, neither work nor home provides emotional anchors for these people.

The search for individual pleasures articulated by the commodities currently offered, a search guided and constantly redirected and refocused by successive advertising campaigns, provides the sole acceptable substitute for both the uplifting solidarity of workmates and the glowing  warmth of caring for and being cared for by nearest and dearest inside the family home and its immediate neighbourhood.

Politicians who wish to reinstate family values should think hard about the fact of the consequences of living in a consumer society – where people are trained to afford other people no more respect than the consumer goods they consume (who exist solely for our pleasure and which need replacing every two years).

The Underclass is the collective victim of the progress of consumer society.

The Term Working Class implies a people who have a useful function in society, the term lower class implies a society on the move – the lowest class being at the bottom of a ladder which it might climb. The term underclass belongs to a different image of society, one which is not hospitable to all, and one in which belonging is achieved by denying and excluding rights to certain others – and this group of others in consumer society is the underclass.

The underclass is seen as wholly cut off from the class system, a no-class, which threatens to undermine the class based order of society. This is just how the Nazis described the Jews.

According to H. Ganns, the underclass describes a wide variety of people – the workless poor, illegal immigrants, single mothers and drug addicts.

What all of these have in common is nothing, except that they are flawed consumers, they have no market-value – they cannot take place in the game of consumerism. They are conceived as an overall drain on society, like weeds who only drain from the beautiful garden, and thus the rest of us would be better off if they did not exist. They are largely conceived of (constructed?) in terms of the dangers they pose to the rest of us.

However, there is one useful function the collectivity of the underclass performs – As a source of moral panics – as a place to which we can attach the cause of our our fears – even though in reality these fears (or anxieties) are endemic to the rootlessness of consumer society itself.

The poor of society (and not necessarily just the unemployed) are useless because they cannot perform their principle duty – they cannot consume! They are thus outcasts, but they do not find solidarity as this, they experience this as loners and do not expect to be helped or find a collective way out.

So where is the place of the poor in the consumer society? In short, it is out of sight – either indoors, in ghettos, or in prisons, and mentally we are made ethically blind to them through the rewriting of their stories – from deprivation to depravity – it is their fault that they are poor.

The problem here is that once you remove a section of the population from moral consideration, they become collateral in solving society’s problems – Violence can thus be justified as a means of exterminating them, as happened with the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Nazi violence was committed not for the liking of it, but out of duty, not out of sadism but out of virtue, not through pleasure but through a method, not by an unleashing of savage impulses and an abandonment of scruples, but in the name of superior values, with professional competence and with the task to be performed constantly in view.

I think Bauman’s point is that we are doing to the poor in this country what the Nazis did to the Jews in Germany in the 1930s – writing a discourse which removes them from ethical consideration and then makes their eradication a procedural duty.

A society unsure of its own reproduction is besieged by demons of its own making – For the order building societies of the past those demons were the revolutionaries who wished to build different orders, for the consumer society of today, its demons are those who cannot consume. The problem with this is that the more the consumer society progresses, the bigger the gap grows between those who are able to consume and those who want to consume and cannot. This is simply the logic of the market.

In consumer society the ultimate goal seems to be being happy through consumerism, which means always to be doing something, always to be consuming something (in other words the goal is the avoidance of boredom) – A busy life full of consumption is a measure of success and happiness – and thus people are compelled to do so. The problem is is that there seem to be no limits to the number of things you can consume, no limits to the number of things you can do – the goal posts keep moving, there is no end!

For the poor this a real problem because they are able to listen to messages about things you could be doing (from the evil advertisers) but are unable to participate, this can breed frustration and all sorts of other negative consequences.

The disarming, disempowering and suppressing of hapless and/ or failed players is also an indispensable supplement to integration through seduction in a market-led society of consumers.

Prison is the primary means by which this is done – the means through which society now exorcises its inner demons – and these demons are cast as ending up there because of their own fault, not because of society. And the harsher the punishments can be, the more effectively those demons are exorcised.

Bauman now traces the common usage of the term ‘The Underclass’ differentiating between Gundar Myrdal’s usage of the term in 1963 – when he used it to mean the coming threat of structural unemployment in the context of increasing productive efficiency – here being a member of the underclass was something over which individuals had little control – it was a failure of the organisation of society to provide sufficient jobs for people.

He contrasts this to the usage of the term by Ken Auletta – who argued that being a member of the underlcass in the early 1980s in America was not a matter of poverty, but of actively opting out of normative values – it was a choice to be feckless – However, his study was based on a highly unrepresentative sample of people from one training centre, in which you had to be an ex convict to gain a place – And here Bauman questions the lumping together of of all the various categories of people into one class.

The Corporate Takeover of Education? Pearson’s Rapidly Expanding Control of UK Qualifications

Amidst the other aspects of the privatisation of education (Marketisation, Academies, Free Schools, Apprenticeships, Tuition Fees etc.) you may have missed this aspect!

Pearson PLC is a FTSE 100 company worth nearly £10 billion with sales of £4.9 billion and a £720 million profit in 2014, whose best-known subsidiary is Britain’s largest exam board, Edexcel, which generates a a profit of £60 million a year.

Over the last five years Pearson PLC has aggressively expanded its control of Britain’s qualifications and assessment market.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 its share of the GCSE market increased from 21% to 30%

Pearsons GCSE

 

Its share of ‘other qualifications’ has increased from 5% to 28%

Pearsons other table

Pearsons other

However, Pearson’s share of the smaller A level market decreased slightly from 25% to 23%.

Pearsons A level

Despite the shrinking in the A level market, taken together this means that Pearson PLC now sets the examination standards for almost 30% of qualifications undertaken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (1).

NB – There is more expansion planned! In its 2014 annual report Pearson PLC clearly states a desire to further expand its role in the UK education further, by getting more involved in such areas as the development of blended and virtual schools (e.g. Connections Education); and schools improvement programmes (e.g. through the Pearson’s School Model), and the use of ICT is central to all of this (2), although to date progress in these other areas seems to have not been as rapid as with its takeover of the qualifications market.

(1)http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20141031163546/http://ofqual.gov.uk/standards/statistics/annual-qualification-market-report-england-wales-northern-ireland/

(2)https://www.pearson.com/ar2014.html

The Gender Pay Gap – A Brief Analysis

This chart shows what most of us would regard as a generally positive trend – the decline in the gender pay gap – which is down to 9% for full-time workers, and even lower for part-time workers.

Gender Pay Gap 1 2014

However, there’s a lot more going on than this….

For starters, there is considerable variation by age – with women in their 20s and 30s actually earning more than men in the same age categories, with  a significant pay gap then emerging between older workers.

Gender Pay Gap by Age

The ONS notes that the gender pay gap between workers 40+ is probably down to women taking time off to become primary child carers, which to my mind is pretty bleak – Given the ‘negative’ gender pay gap between younger workers, this suggests women are getting into jobs which will give them the same (or better) wages than men (reflecting their higher educational achievement) but that this is then abruptly reversed when childcare responsibilities fall on the mother rather than the father.

It also seems that women in higher paid jobs lose out more compared to men in lower paid jobs – with the gender pay gap for the highest 10% of earners being near 20%, while it’s nearer 5% for the lowest 10% of earners (so rich women are less equal to rich men than poor women are to poor men, at least if we look purely at income). Of course this will also reflects the gendered age differences in the chart above.

Employment - gender pay gap

However to complicate matters there’s not a straightforward correlation between occupational class and the gender pay gap – it’s actually the traditionally masculine jobs which have the highest gender pay gap, not the highest income ‘professional and managerial’ jobs.

 gender pay gap occupation

There’s various explanations for this larger gender pay gap in traditionally male occupations – It could simply be the later entry of women into such occupations compared to women going into the professions – thus there are fewer older women than older men, so women on average earn less compared to men because older workers earn more than younger. An alternative explanation would be that women who go into these professions are less likely to return them after taking time out to raise children, in which case the question of whether this lack of return is due to gender-barriers, or genuine free-choice would arise. Of course, it’s probably a mixture of all three of these reasons.

Finally, it might be worth exploring what’s going in in Northern Ireland that’s led to such a significant reduction in the gender pay gap….. Whether this is down to social policy or just societal changes I don’t know, drop me a line if you do!

Employment - gender pay gap 1997 to 2014

 

Consuming Life, Zygmunt Bauman – A Summary of Chapter 3

Chapter Three: Consumerist Culture

A brief summary of chapter three, mostly just paraphrased, and basically just my own notes, comments and links to follow!

An influential, widely read and respected fashion handbook, edited by a highly prestigious journal for the autumn–winter 2005 season, offered ‘half a dozen key looks’ ‘for the coming months’ ‘that will put you ahead of the style pack’. This promise was aptly, skilfully calculated to catch the attention: and very skilfully indeed, since in a brief, crisp sentence it managed to address all or almost all anxious concerns and urges bred by the society of consumers and born of consuming life.

In order to belong You have to metonymically identify with the pack, it is not simply enough to follow its rules/ procedures (belonging is not a given!)

The only way to guarantee security is to stay ahead of the pack!
The reference to ‘staying ahead’ is a precaution against the danger of overlooking the moment when the current emblems of ‘belonging’ go out of circulation.
Fashion items come with a use by date – however great your gain from promptly following the call, the gain won’t last forever. In the liquid modern world, slowness means social death. This chimes with pointillist time.
Thirdly you have to make a choice, but you have only a limited range of products to choose from and you have no control over the range of choices!

The major difference which sets consumerist society apart from its productivist predecessor seems to be the reversal of the values attached respectively to duration and transience – consumer society rests on the denial of the values of procrastination and deferred gratification.

The ‘consumerist syndrome’ is all about speed, excess and waste – not only do we rush to acquire things, but we rush to get rid of them too, and because there are so many choices and insecurities, it is rational to hedge your bets (buy three outfits, and only ever where two of them for example).

A consumer society cannot but be a society of excess and profligacy

There are two basic ideas about why society is necessary:

Firstly the Dukheimian/ Hobbesian idea that it is necessary to prevent war

Secondly the Levinas/ Logstrop – that it is necessary in order to make the unconditional conditional (through establishing laws).

The classic scholars worried that if society disappeared we would descend into a war of all against all or become overwhelmed with a sense of moral responsibility but this has not happened because we are taught that now we only need have responsibility for ourselves, not for others.

However, the concerns of previous sociologists assumed that there would be some sense of the social in people’s minds – there isn’t any more…the advent of consumerism has sapped the credibility of both cases – each in a different way, though for the same reason – the expanding process of the dismantling the once comprehensive system of normative regulation. Ever larger chunks of human conduct have been released from explicitly social patterning, supervision and policing, relegating an ever larger set of previously socialized responsibilities back to the responsibility of individual men and women.

As Pierre Bourdieu signalled as long as two decades ago, coercion has by and large been replaced by stimulation, the once obligatory patterns of conduct (duty) by seduction, the policing of behaviour by PR and advertising, and normative regulation by the arousal of new needs and desires.

An intensely and extensively cultivated sentiment of urgency provides individuals and institutions alike with illusionary, though nevertheless quite effective, relief in their struggles to alleviate the potentially devastating consequences of the agonies of choice endemic in the condition of consumer freedom.

Following Aubert….Permanent busyness, with one urgency following another, gives the security of a ‘full life’ or a ‘successful career’, sole proofs of self-assertion in a world from which all references to the ‘beyond’ are absent…. When people take action, they think short-term – of things to be done immediately or in the very near future . . . all too often, action is only an escape from the self, a remedy for the anguish… and the deeper one sinks into the urgency of an immediate task, the further away the anguish stays.

An additional benefit of declaring a constant state if emergency is that  it makes people easier to manage – where work is concerned asset stripping and downsizing keep people in a constant state of needing to be updating their skills sets to look for work.


In a society of consumers and in an era when ‘life politics’ is replacing the Politics that once boasted a capital ‘P’, the true ‘economic cycle’, the one that truly keeps the economy going, is the ‘buy it, enjoy it, chuck it out’ cycle.

The life of a consumer, the consuming life, is not about acquiring and possessing. It is not even about getting rid of what was acquired the day before yesterday and proudly paraded a day later. It is instead, first and foremost, about being on the move.

If the ethical principle of the producing life was the delay of gratification, then the ethical guideline of the consuming life has to be to avoid staying satisfied. For a kind of society which proclaims customer satisfaction to be its sole motive and paramount purpose, a satisfied consumer is neither motive nor purpose – but the most terrifying menace.

Not being satisfied with what one has is crucial for the society of consumers – profit depends on it – and stigma is attached to those who settle for fixed needs or those who sit still, or are happy with who they are – such people are stigmatised as ‘flawed consumers’.

Consumers should be constantly striving to be someone better, or to be someone else altogether, they should always be on the move – and afraid of boredom and stagnation; and to be a good consumer, forgetting is as important as moving on.

Despite consumerism being dressed up as freedom… what is not allowed is the freedom to not change.

Pointillist time is uniquely suited to separating us from the past and helping us forget the future – part of the experience is thus life lived as ‘serial births’ – of life as an unending string of ‘new beginnings’

Lesław Hostyn ski, an insightful analyst of the values of consumer culture, has listed and described a long series of stratagems deployed in the marketing of consumer goods in order to discourage the young (and ever younger) adepts of consumerism from developing a long-term attachment to anything they buy and enjoy.

One such strategy is the replace the old barbie doll scheme through which Mattel promised young consumers they would sell them the next Barbie at a discount if they brought their currently used specimen back to the shop once it was ‘used up’…. Exchanging one Barbie doll for a ‘new and improved’ one leads to a life of liaisons and partnerships shaped and lived after a pattern of rent-purchase.

As Pascal Lardellier suggests, the ‘senti- mental logic’ tends to become ever more saliently consumerist: it is aimed at the reduction of all sorts of risks, the categorization of the items searched for, an effort to define precisely the features of the sought-after partner that can be deemed adequate to the aspirations of the searcher. The underlying conviction is that it is possible to compose the object of love from a number of clearly specified and measurable physical and social qualities and character traits.

Following Erikson…. pointillism  may well be the most salient feature of our times – the desire to forget the past, not be constrained by it, and experience everything in a lifetime – in a carpe diem way, but of course there is not enough time to experience everything and hence…we live in a tyrannical situation.
The individual consequences of extreme hurriedness are overwhelming: both the past and the future as mental categories are threatened by the tyranny of the moment . . . Even the ‘here and now’ is threatened since the next moment comes so quickly that it becomes difficult to live in the present.

A further consequence, examined ny Elzbieta Tarkowska, a prominent chronosociologist, has developed the concept of ‘synchronic humans’, who ‘live solely in the present’ and who ‘pay no attention to past experience or future consequences of their actions’, they live in a presentist culture – a culture which breeds humans who lack commitment to each other.

(As outlined in ‘Liquid Love’) Human bonds nowadays tend to be viewed – with a mixture of rejoicing and anxiety – as frail, easily falling apart and as easy to be broken as they are to tie.

Freedom from commitment is the most valued attribute of the typical relationship in consumer society, freedom to be able to eject a stale relationship is more important than committing.

Allowing another individual into your sphere of intimacy has always been anxiety inducing because others are inherently unpredictable – however modern relationships are different because the principle source of anxiety today pertaining to relationships is the fear of missing out on other relationships – the better highs one might be experiencing with new partners compared to the drudgery of committing to one person forever.

Anxieties no longer arise because of the other they arise because of the possibility of not having to be committed, which means relationships today are constantly judged against what other joys they are preventing us from experiencing (experienced automatically as a kind of opportunity cost).
The internet is the perfect medium for the intimate relationship in consumer society – because it takes little effort to forge relationships and even less to cut them off, the later being achievable at the click of a button.

Electronic (non face to face) relationships allow for a quick cutting off ’emotional ties’ – this ability to cut off ties quickly is what people value the most – and it is this that is the perfect training for life in a market-mediated consumer society – where the disposability of things is valued more highly than their acquisition.

Numerous members of the knowledge classes (who spend a lot of time online) have suggested that the internet offers a viable alternative to the traditional institutions of democracy, which people seem to be decreasingly interested in.

However, political communication online tends to take the form of shouting about one’s virtues – stating that you are for or against something rather than doing anything about it and forming a movement for change – Political Communication online has become fetishised – It enables people to feel as if they are doing something when in fact they are not.

In reality, the internet is an unlimited space which soaks up dissent into a stagnant pool, where dissent is recycled in the knowledge economy of forgetting, recycled as soundbites, while real liquid modern politics is able to go on largely unchallenged.

Bush and Blair were still able to go to war despite significant amounts of virtual protest. The internet sets up a chasm between real politics and citizens (if you can still call them that!)

In the liquid modern society of consumers no identities are gifts at birth, none is ‘given’, let alone given once and for all and in a secure fashion. Identities are projects: tasks yet to be undertaken, diligently performed and seen through to infinitely remote completion.
Even in the case of those identities that pretend and/or are supposed to be ‘given’ and non-negotiable (such as class/ sex/ ethnicity), the obligation to undertake an individual effort to appropriate them and then struggle daily to hold on to them is presented and perceived as the principal requirement and indispensable condition of their ‘givenness’.

Identity is a sentence to  lifelong hard labour. Remember that consumers are driven by the need to ‘commoditize’ themselves – remake themselves into attractive commodities

Two things alleviate the constant stress of having to continually remake oneself… Cloakroom Communities – which are phantom communities where one subjectively feels like one belongs just by being amongst others and Fixed Term communities – where some kind of collective activity takes place but one is free to leave with no consequence.

Both types of community have two things in common – firstly, the primary means whereby you indicate your belonging is through shopping – for products which display that you are part of the group, and secondly there is the absolute right to exit without penalty. In both of these communities the idea of the integrated self is a myth.

It seems as if the only types of identity community are temporary and based on buying in and then discarding, identities are short lived and experiential – you adorn yourself with that which is necessary and invest short term into the moment – then you move on.

The problem with all of the above is that (A) you’ll wake up with the same old self after every session, only older and poorer after every such session, and (B) this means of constructing and expressing the self denies everyone else recognition – because you can always exit at the drop of a hat.

It is as if we have constructed a social world where the only means of belonging comes with an in-price (through consumption) and will only ever last for the short-term – so you have to continually put a lot of effort into getting ready to take part in these short-term (fictitious communities) (NB – He doesn’t actually give any examples of these communities!). Identities constructed online are carnival identities – to be taken up temporarily and discarded whenever one is bored with them….

The ‘community’ of internauts seeking substitute recognition does not require the chore of socializing and is thereby relatively free from risk, that notorious and widely feared bane of the offline battles for recognition. In the internet-mediated identification game, the Other is, so to speak, disarmed and detoxified. The Other is reduced by the internaut to what really counts: to the status of the instrument of one’s own self-endorsement.

All of this comes from being brought up in Pointillist Time —

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

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