Debt claims another British family

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Can society learn anything from the terrible murder-suicide in Hampshire this week?

Firstly let us allow the fact that there is no excuse for a man to kill his wife and children, but I do wonder if it’s something we’re going to be seeing more of. In today’s very materialistic society, people seem unable in the UK to live within their means, and with temptation so close at hand, many people are only a few weeks away from disaster.

The saddest thing in this most recent case is that the couple both had jobs – they had not been hit by a sudden crisis, such as job loss or illness. Why could they not work through it together? It is so terribly sad. 

The materialistic urge seems so horribly prevalent in the UK. Here in rural France, for instance, most of we Brits own our modest properties outright and would never dream of taking out a loan to buy something other than a necessity. Even then, we would tend to pick the cheapest thing we could find and settle for what we could get.  

But I was talking to a close friend in the UK the other day who was spitting nails that the bank would only loan her £30,000 to undertake a loft conversion. "I need at least £40k," she said. "And it will add £100k to the house…" (ah, the house as an investment again, rather than as a place to live…)

I feel so dismayed by this kind of attitude that it’s difficult for me to know what to say. She already has a mortgage on her own flat, plus two mortgages on BTL properties, and no work. Yet her solution to the problem is to throw at it yet more money that she hasn’t got.

She is annoyed that the bank wanted to look at her outgoings, to calculate what she could afford to repay, and yet that is precisely how French banks operate – very sensibly – and it’s a system I’m used to, after so many years living in Continental Europe. I think the loans available in the UK are utter madness – I had no idea until the Credit Crunch that such a thing as self-certification even existed. 

The DH and I have watched with mounting horror this past 14 years as the overspending in the UK got worse and worse. My unemployed, benefit-claiming, working-on-the-black relatives all have credit cards, bank loans, new three-piece suites and wide-screen televisions – items that we ourselves cannot afford.

One of my blue-collar relatives is currently refurnishing his house and I can’t help noticing that he’s buying everything new. He’s entitled to, of course – it’s his money. But I wonder if it even occured to him to buy second-hand, as I would do. Another, unemployed, has just landed a super little council house but is whingeing because it hasn’t got fast enough broadband access. 

When, precisely, did the British get so bloody picky about everything? Here, with our financial situation improving at last, we are grateful to be able to afford steak and chips at the local bar once a month – we hadn’t eaten out for two years until recently. What we did NOT do when things got really and truly tight, as they did in the past two years, was go around spending money we hadn’t got.

The murder-suicide in Hampshire is a terrible tragedy, especially as it involved two infants, so let us only hope that society can learn some little thing from it: that children should be taught financial management and budgeting, for instance; or that bank lending should be tightly controlled; or even better, that values such as thrift and frugality should once again be valued in society, instead of keeping up with the Joneses.

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