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Squeezed Middle: I’m a child of the cheap-credit era

Though I try to fight it, at heart, I’m still an obedient little consumer.

I am in the bath reading the Sunday Times Style magazine. This may look like idle, aspirational consumerism but contrary to appearances I am engaged in an Improving Activity. I am training myself not to want things. It’s going quite well. So far, I have discovered that I genuinely don’t want a Linea chandelier (£3,627) or an Istra leather sofa (£1,595). I feel pretty confident that my wardrobe is not short of a knitted teddy bear jumper (£368) and that my kids look cute enough without limited-edition Cath Kidston trainers (£16).

I am still working on not wanting a bespoke countrystyle kitchen in warm wood when Curly enters the bathroom without so much as a knock. “Are you reading that rag again? I thought you hated it.”

Curly and I share a slightly too-small flat, a base sense of humour and parental responsibilities for two small children. We are not married because I have made it very clear that I wouldn’t want to even if he did ask me. Besides, we are hardly in a position to afford a wedding, having barely a brass farthing between us. (If I did have a brass farthing, I would hotfoot it on to Antiques Roadshow– I bet they’re worth a bob or two these days.)

Curly does not understand the intricacies of my relationship with Style. He is under the impression that I like to lust over the pretty dresses – which, as I’ve just explained, could hardly be further from the truth. Curly does not hanker after expensive clothing. He likes buying clothes in charity shops and often manages to find bargains – most recently, a pair of Yves Saint Laurent jeans for £2. Whenever I look in a charity shop, all I find are flowered smocks that smell of old lady.

“I do hate it. That’s why I’m reading it.” He shoots a pitying look in my direction and turns away, unbuttoning his fly. I ponder his broad, solid back as he stands over the toilet bowl.

Curly is a simpler being than me and I mean that as a compliment. It doesn’t bother him that our flat is slightly too small, or that we’re living so far out of town we have to commute to the suburbs, or that 15 years after graduation he still hasn’t paid off his student loan. As long as he has a reliable supply of dark ale and Aston Villa cling on to their place in the Premier League, all is hunky-dory in Curlyworld.

I need to take a leaf out of his book. The problem is my wildly inflated expectations. I came of age in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, at the peak of western capitalist excess. I was weaned on ecstasy, alcopops and cheap credit. Though I try to fight it, at heart, I’m still an obedient little consumer.

Hence the intensive programme of psychological reconditioning. Having failed on the kitchen, I flick to the horoscopes. “During 2013, success is no longer defined by glamour, earnings, possessions or clout . . .” There you have it – this could be my year.

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 21 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The A-Z of Israel

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.