What are the hot trends in this major world financial centre? Bankers’ bonuses are back on the table, and bidding wars for property in central London are pushing prices higher than before the 2008 crash. In the Guardian on Saturday Ian Jack called London the ‘world HQ of speculative house-buying’.
If you were a qualified chartered accountant from the south of Ireland and your job disappeared a while back – you might consider it a good idea to head to this glorious metropolis. Niall (not his real name) must have read the headlines when he did just that and hit the streets of London on September 25. Irish governments have passed seven austerity budgets since 2008, and according to think tank Civitas, if Ireland exits the bailout programme successfully it will be hailed as ‘a poster child for austerity’. That’s all great, unless like Niall you find yourself unemployed at the age of 32 after 13 years of work.
Arriving here, Niall has ended up not far from this suburb a few train stops from the City. But now the perspective has shifted. Our pawnbrokers and pound shops suggest an alternative vision of London, although Walthamstow High Street to the north of here still beats us in terms of sheer quantity of payday loan shops.
Niall, who came into our London food bank – set up by local churches in this borough in partnership with the Trussell Trust – has been surviving on a £79 emergency loan since he arrived. He moved in with a friend in London, but the young friend he came over with fell out with Niall’s London mate, and the two of them had to leave. They ended up sleeping in a local park the night they were kicked out. Next, they moved in with Niall’s uncle.
Niall said: ‘Things have been rough to say the least. I’ve gone through £500 in the last three weeks, and that’s without socialising. But I’m optimistic. I’ve come with aspirations to do well, not to be a benefit seeker. I have literally got £5 left. I’m applying for any job I can get. If they want me to sweep shit off the street I’ll do it. I don’t think I’m too good to do anything. I’ve applied for 40 jobs in one day, and I’ve applied for 100 jobs since I got here.’
Things may indeed look up very soon for Niall, who is articulate, charismatic and funny. He sent his CV off to a major accountancy firm and they interviewed him today. He showed me a very positive email from the director of human resources, who tells him he’s very much looking forward to meeting him. ‘He’s very impressed by my skills and my knowledge.’
He thanks the volunteers at the food bank for the bags of groceries he and his friend are given, saying: ‘This is going to be a huge benefit.’ He brushes off our concern about the five mile trip they have to tackle on foot carrying the six heavy bags, saying: ‘Who needs a bus when we’ve got fine legs on us…. I could sit here all day and moan to you, but we just have to get on with it.’ He’s determined to turn his life around.