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Rip-Off Nation

   Back home, sort of . . .if ever I could call London home. 

   The recession is starting to bite. Three weeks on, back to my old standby, housepainting (or ‘decorating’ as the term is here. How perfectly British is that) through some agency. £10.50 an hour, before tax, before the obligatory weekly fee of £13.50 (a bargain – another company charged £25) for the pleasure of being paid as a limited company which means only being taxed 20%, filing my own taxes and being able to write off . . . what? 

   One agency offered to send me back to St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, the same place I worked at last winter, for an absurd £7.25 an hour. Only this time it was ‘temp-long term’ – a euphemism for permanent with no benefits, no rights, and no money – and at a staggering £5.85 an hour. Of course, I refused. St. Martin’s is of course outsourcing all their staff, raising tuition, especially for foreign students, and neglecting their campuses as much as they can get away with – at the Southampton Row campus plaster was actually falling from the stairwell ceiling – in the rush to build their new campus at King’s Cross in time for 2012.

   Plenty of ads for ‘fantastic opportunities’ and ‘exciting roles’ at £7.50 an hour or £12,000 a year. After tax maybe £800 a month. How do you live in London on £800 a month? 

   In the news the other evening: 35% hike in gas and 9% hike in electric bills while British Gas sustains record profits. So we’re back to the old old days, which this Labour government was supposed to do away with forever, of the early 90’s recession, when the ‘captains of industry’ awarded themselves fatter and fatter bonuses for their very mediocre services. I still remember the footage of water being trucked in to Yorkshire by the army – during torrential rainstorms – because Yorkshire Water couldn’t deliver. And the chairman, Sir something, receiving his usual  fat bonus that year. 

   The prices here boggle the mind, especially when you convert them back to US dollars. £24.20 for a weekly Zone 1+2 tube pass – nearly fifty bucks US, twice the price of a weekly pass in New York. A box sandwich at Pret Manger for £3.50 – 7 bucks US. A movie? Twelve pounds – nearly 25 US$. A decent room in a shared apartment? At least a thousand bucks a month. The train in from Gatwick? 25 bucks. A Starbuck’s Vente Mild? 4 bucks US. 50 bucks US for a memory card (IGig) for my digital camera. Fish and chips in a pub? Nearly twenty bucks!! A ho-hum boquet of flowers in Victoria, should you be in a romantic mood – a walloping 80$!!!!

   And so on. Even the toilets in Victoria Station have gone from 20p to 30. 

   Forget sushi lunches, new clothes, shoes. Forget eating out, having your own flat, and any luxuries whatsoever. In a city where the average wage is apparently 13,000 pounds per annum a lot of people are bound to be hurting.

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