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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, April 11, 2003
    One week to go on the CAP Lent Challenge
    One week to go on the CAP Lent Challenge and I've never looked forward so much to Easter Day. I don't think I've been especially hard up because I've lacked the discipline of others on this challenge; resorted to what so many folks do and survived by taking out 'loans' to cope with things like tomorrow's trip to a wedding in Blackburn. Well, I couldn't miss that, could I?

    But nevertheless the experience has been real enough to feel some of the reality of low income experience. Some of the major effects of this experience have been:
      Having to budget - this is a good thing, although of course it would be much better on a higher wage. Living on low income makes you more aware of the money that's coming in and what you're doing with it. You become adept at stretching it as far as possible. One drawback is that budgets really ought to have 'contingency' built in: on a low income it's not easy to 'put aside' for unforeseen demands. However well-organised the budget, that's where the crises begin...

      Getting into debt - the major feature of my Lent, this. I've only got through it by arranging (with myself) loans to cover extra, sometimes unforeseen, spending - that holiday in the middle week, birthday presents and wedding expenses. This says, on one level, I've failed the Challenge. I haven't managed to live on the minimum wage. And this is true. But I've willingly embraced this failure as something very true to life. So many people get into debt - and on low income that often involves being excluded by the 'mainstream' lenders and becoming vulnerable to 'loan sharks'. That's been the subject of other CAP campaigns and needs to continue to be a close concern.

      Diminishing opportunities - I've written during Lent about the geography of the low-waged (a smaller circuit than those able to travel without financial restriction) and about the different route around the supermarket (shorter and restricted to the 'value' shelves). Low income means not enjoying the luxury of being able to segue easily from the CAP website over to Amazon.com and buy a book that's just come to mind. It means thinking twice about every invitation out, even just for the odd pint. It means watching that old video from the back of the dusty cupboard because going to Blockbuster would mean missing a meal. It means spontaneity, generosity, charitability, all take a backwards step.

      Feeling trapped - I'm looking forward so much to the end of this Challenge, now. I'm making spending plans already, and I'm anticipating the pleasure of just being able to take off on my days off and enjoy the freedom of travel, eating well, taking in 'leisure experiences' without having to worry about what I'm doing. This reminds me of those times in the eighties when I was unemployed. The joy of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when a job came along. The desire to see that light was a constant for me then. The difference between then and now, is that rarely then, could I see that light. I was trapped in the tunnel and seldom felt I'd ever escape. I guess that's the low-income experience too.

      Clarity of vision - It's not all bad. Because when you're having to think harder about money you start to see clearer too: how financial systems work; the effects of government spending, as practiced and proposed; how much we waste on fripperies; how much we have compared to others in this and other countries. And so on. It's an education, being low-waged. No that I've any right or inclination to wish that sort of education on anyone. But I do have an urge to commit to helping those who have such thorough learning, to share their knowledge on as many public forums as possible, because they can teach so much to those of us who don't usually have to think very much about money.