Hard days ahead
London is opening up ‘warm spaces’ this winter. For people who can’t afford to heat their homes.
You may be thinking that public libraries and schools and a whole host of public spaces have been that for a long time. And you would be right. But also, schools are running out of funds so they won’t be that for long. And even though public libraries have always been a warm, dry, safe place for folks to just be, they also fulfil many other functions.
They are a haven and a springboard, a magic cavern and a treasure trove.
These new warm spaces are no more than that: safe places for people to stay warm during the day.
Because the winter ahead will be rough.
In the UK, the average mortgage is up by 2.5%, and that’s if you were lucky enough to secure a renewal rate before they went insane. Tough luck for those pesky millennials waiting to get on the property ladder.
My supermarket bill is up about 30% for what seems like less stuff, week on week, and with no new dietary habits, I assure you. My mum in Athens sees hers shooting up even more.
Our energy bill in a small London flat is up 6x compared to six months ago, and we haven’t yet turned our heating on.
Nobody takes that kind of inflationary expenditure in their stride, but if these are data points and budgeting inputs for you, rather than existential moments of ‘Do I eat or do I have a hot shower? Do I keep my home warm for my infant or do I feed the family a proper meal?’, then what we are looking at is privilege.
Hear me out a moment.
I know it grates to be told that not freezing is privilege. And that’s the point.
Having privilege doesn’t make you a bad person. Believing you deserve your privilege does.
Making the most of the opportunities life affords you doesn’t make you a bad person. Thinking you are better for them does.
Flights home are up 3x compared to my last trip.
And I am still going to fly and see my family.
I have the option to make this choice. It’s expensive, but it’s an option I can exercise. A choice I make.
I am doing it.
I am lucky and I am happy and I can’t wait to see them.
And I am under no illusion that this is not privilege.
Am I a bad person for using my hard-earned cash to spend the holidays with my ageing folks?
Of course not.
Is it a privilege to be able to make that choice?
That’s the message.
There are hard days ahead. And they are set to last. A lot of folks around you are struggling.
A friend told me recently of a new recruit at their bank… let that sink in… an employee of a bank… who had to move out of their parents’ house and relocate (not far, but still) in order to take this job… and although their first paycheque would make them a white-collar worker, my friend worked out this individual was really struggling for money in their first few weeks on the job.
She noticed that this person was walking to work to save a fare… skipped lunch… and evidently came home to an empty fridge because they weren’t quite white-collar yet.
So she started offering lifts because it was ‘totally on her way’ (it wasn’t) and stopping off at the supermarket because she had ‘forgotten she needed some stuff… and why don’t you fill up a trolley too?’… and never speaking of it again.
Knowing you are fortunate is wise.
Not holding the misery of those less fortunate against them is wise.
Being kind is existential.
The shoe could be on the other foot. The wheel may turn still. Lady Luck is fickle and the things you can choose to do today may not always be in your gift.
Realising that is where the line between privilege and entitlement lies. Beware the crossing of it as there is rarely a path back.
Dark days lie ahead. Don’t forget that not everyone is warm and fed and safe.
And they may be closer than you think if that helps with your empathy. They may be your neighbour. Your colleague. Poverty doesn’t always look Dickensian and is no less crippling for it.
What does that have to do with finance, you may think?
It has everything to do with humanity.
And a lot to do with money: both of which are part of what we do for a living. Making accessing and moving money easier, faster, cheaper, better. In the service of humanity.
So remember that humanity’s bounty is not evenly distributed.
Remember it at home. Remember it at work. Remember it always.
We have often celebrated the £140 billion in savings the UK amassed during the Covid lockdowns, while the more affluent working families were forced to stay at home and not spend. Compared to that number, the £6.1 billion in personal debt and arrears flagged by Step Change seems like chump change.
Net, the economists say, society is better off.
Only it isn’t.
The savings and the debt don’t coexist in the same households, to point out the obvious.
As the £79 billion of corporate debt slowly catches up with budgets, spending and prices, as inflation is climbing with banal predictability and the aid packages of the lockdown era come home to roost, just remember that a rising tide should lift all boats. But it doesn’t.
Remember that there are winners and losers, even if the game isn’t winner takes all: for some families it sure feels that way.
Remember that the economy doesn’t hand out universal, singular experiences. Remember that your reality isn’t everyone’s lived reality.
Remember that the products you design are for real people and many of them are struggling.
That is all.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!