Sure, it was hard in our day, but I wonder if it was quite as hard for us, then, as it is for young struggling families nowadays? I thought, since we do try to consider those parts of a year in the life of a village that are quite hard to reach, perhaps today we might be able simply to chat about family finances.
It’s one of the big no-go areas in conversation, isn’t it, right up there with religion and politics: don’t mention money! But everyone has to survive, and how families manage (and I use the inclusive sense of family, ranging from one individual through the gamut of relationships and on to a loose collection of friends and relatives) . . . how families survive is often, to me, a great white elephant sort of question, unasked in the middle of the room.
Yet it is a fascinating topic. Live within your means, we’re told, but the average family debt in the UK at the beginning of this year was reported as £15,400 by researchers at the Trades Union Congress. So it’s probably fair to say that most families are living beyond their actual means. So let’s assume that most folks are currently in a state of borrowing money against future earnings, and if the interest rate is not punitive (especially say if they’ve borrowed from the Northumberland Community Bank) and not a payday lender, that sort of living must be reasonable. Neither a borrower nor a lender be was a hoary old saying, now well past its dotage. We all, well, nearly all of us, borrow, don’t we?
And the banks do love to lend money, so much so that the practice begs the question: have they really assessed a family’s ability to repay the loan? But leaving all the loans, unsecured or secured aside, there’s really the primary question to deal with, and that is: how do people find employment anyway; where do they go?
There are some local employers, of course. I remember when Carrie landed a job as a milk recorder, in the early days of our life in Sparty Lea, and what a job that was. Then there’s the hospitality and tourism sector (like the pub and restaurant businesses), and that has to include the dramatic growth of holiday cottages and Bed & Breakfasts, many of which bring money in to struggling local families throughout these valleys. Allendale Co-operative Society is a big local employer, as is Baynes Travel and Allendale Brewery. Independent shops, services and tradespeople generate their own income (and as many of them as I’ve been able to identify are listed in the eponymous local Pocket Directory, current edition October 2019, as well as throughout the daily entries in this diary), if they can. From personal experience I know, however, that such businesses can be more challenging than you or I may ever realise. There’s the county council, but those jobs have been pared to the bone recently, with many drying up.
So . . . so many folks have to do the daily commute to larger connurbations like Hexham, or even further afield to the toon, or on to Tyne and Wear, Sunderland, Teesside. Some folks are away from home most of the week, returning only on the weekends. If you’re a family of more than two members say, then typically you might find one bread-winner works farther away than they’d wish to, while the other stays closer to home, finding some financial reward in whatever local job is going. When I was commuting in to the University of Newcastle, as it was then a couple of decades ago, it seemed like the valley during the weekdays was filled with home-makers bravely holding the fort until the children were old enough to take care of themselves for an hour or so after school, whereupon the primary home-maker too might be required to join the employment rat-race in town, just so that the family could make ends meet.
Anyway, regardless of how they support themselves, whether locally or in jobs far away, or a combination of both . . . for the young families struggling along as cheerfully and earnestly as you could hope for, throughout these East and West Allen Valleys, keeping the wolf from the door and the home fires burning brightly, I’d like to send the very best of commiserations. As family debt skyrockets, as jobs become that much harder to find, as childcare and after-school care become more challenging, as the economy retrenches, life is inevitably increasingly difficult.
It should have been better than for us. We should have left a better situation for the next generation. I feel so sorry that it’s not.
The young families in our midst deserve encouragement, commendation, and applause for their continuing efforts, and support whenever we can offer it.