Squeezed Middle: Sleepless nights and Highbury flats

I tell Mum straight out what I think of her plan to buy a million-pound flat in Highbury - because we are facing financial Armageddon.

Another sleepless night. At 6am, I stagger out of bed. It is semi-dark outside. I reach for the phone and, before I have even thought about it, I dial Mum’s number. She answers straight away. She’s an early riser.
 
“Hello, darling. Is everything all right?”
 
No. It’s not. I make a weird choking noise.
 
“Oh, dear. What is it? Is something the matter?”
 
I tell her straight out what I think of her plan to buy a million-pound flat in Highbury. I don’t hold back. I tell her that I love her and that I want her to have everything in the world that she could possibly wish for – but that we are facing financial Armageddon and we need her help. She listens and she doesn’t get offended or cross. She sounds shocked. And sad.
 
“If you feel like this, darling, I won’t buy the flat. It was just a silly idea. I got carried away. And that’s the end of it. OK?”
 
I sniff. I thought I’d feel better but I don’t.
 
“OK. I’m so sorry.”
 
“Shush. Go and get some sleep.”
 
Three hours later, once I’ve made Larry and Moe porridge and brushed their teeth and wriggled them both into their clothes and washed their faces and distracted them for long enough that I can throw some clothes on – the same as yesterday, but who cares? – and tidied away the breakfast things and wiped the table and started to think about how on earth we’re going to fill the eight hours until Curly gets back from work and I can finally sit down and close my eyes, the phone rings. It’s Mum.
 
“So, I’ve been thinking about our conversation,” she says.
 
“Oh, right?”
 
“And I’ve come up with a plan.”
 
I give Larry and Moe two gingerbread biscuits each so I can fully focus on Mum’s plan. It’s an amazing plan. It’s a plan that will change our lives.
 
Mum is proposing to stay in her current house but to rent out two of her bedrooms and give the income to us every month. It will be enough money to cover our mortgage repayments. Curly and I, between us, will only have to earn enough to pay for food, bills and fun. She will do this for a year and then we will review the situation.
 
By the time I put the phone down, the world is a different place. So we will still be in the slightly-too-small flat but we will be free! We can be real people again, people who enjoy life and don’t worry all the time and even maybe go out for a pub lunch and on holiday sometimes. I can stay at home for a bit longer with the children. Curly can take some time to retrain.
 
I am so delirious that I sit smiling stupidly for several minutes before noticing that Moe has smeared his gingerbread man all over the carpet and is eating earth from the plant pot.
 
I pick him up, bury my mouth in his chubby neck and blow a big raspberry. He squeals with delight.
 
“Bubbalicious baby,” I whisper in his ear.
 
“We’re going to be all right.”
Rooftops in Highbury. Image: Getty

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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