Project Peter Pan: 'I know people who are looking for alternative living arrangements like caravans or vans'

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As part of the launch of National World's Project Peter Pan, championing the lost generation, Bristol World editor MARK TAYLOR talks to 27-year-old Isaac, who is currently homeless after losing his job and flat a few months ago

This time last year, everything was going well for Isaac. The 27-year-old moved to Bristol two years ago and he had a full-time job and a flat. Life was good.

But then, through no fault of his own, a series of events altered the course of Isaac’s life, which is why he is now technically homeless and relying on Universal Credit, with a daily food budget of £2.

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Isaac isn’t his real name. He wasn’t happy sharing those details as he didn’t want friends or family to know.

Originally from the north of England, Isaac went to university in Bath and after a couple of years working in low-paid hospitality jobs, he found a full-time admin position.

Things were going to plan. He was earning £21,000 a year and had found a flat on Spare Room, which he shared with one other person.

Isaac’s rent was £650 per month but despite sharing the utility bills and council tax, things were ‘very tight’ by the end of the month.

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Although he had no savings, he was debt-free, had never dipped into his overdraft and he had big plans for the future.

“When I was working in that job I was hoping the flat was the last or second but last rental before getting a mortgage. The job was safe and I was hoping I would be earning more as I got more qualifications.”

But then Isaac’s world took an unexpected turn for the worse. He lost his job and his already fragile mental health declined to the point where he considered taking his own life.

“I really thought I was going to kill myself when I lost the job. My mental health has been bad since I was a teenager, with depression and anxiety, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I just thought ‘what’s the point?’ 

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“I got behind with my rent a couple of months but I thought that was fine because I was going to kill myself anyway. I just didn’t care. I wasn’t eating, I just stayed in my flat like a complete zombie for a couple of months.

“Then I realised that maybe I wasn’t going to kill myself but my life had completely fallen apart. I had no job, no money, no contact with my family and nothing to fall back on but I thought I’d figure something out.”

Isaac ended up staying with friends and then paying to stay in Bristol hostels, which were often problematic.

“The shared kitchens were disgusting and one had rats and a bunch of homeless people who had been there ten years. 

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“One hostel was split into six-bed dorms and people were chucking old food into trays under the beds. I saw a huge rat and I remember thinking to myself this was a new low.”

With no income or benefits at this point, Isaac had to sell most of his possessions when he lost his flat. He also had to put some personal items in storage, which is costly but has to be done due to having no permanent address.

“I sold as much as I could. When I moved in, I was so optimistic that I bought a huge sofa and I bought a brand new washing machine for £400 which was my first ever white goods purchase. I loved it but I had to sell it for less than half what I paid for it after only a few months.

“I stayed with friends for a few months and then stayed in hostels but they can cost £25-£30 a night which soon mounts up if you have no income. But it’s a lot cheaper than hotels or Airbnbs and it’s not sleeping on the streets.”

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Isaac is currently living in temporary housing for the homeless in Bristol. The housing is paid for via benefits and he gets £337 a month Universal Credit.

He’s applying for jobs and hopes to secure an apprenticeship in software engineering so he can start earning a proper wage again and get back on track.

And yet despite the fact his life has been turned upside down in such a short time, he’s remaining as positive and realistic as he can.

“Self-awareness has reminded me how I got to this situation and that it was through no fault of my own but I just think ‘why me?’

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“I’ve never indulged, never bought any large purchases like a car and haven’t had a holiday abroad since I was eight years old. I’m not an addict, I don’t buy anything or go anywhere.

“I live such a small and quiet life, I just wonder how did I end up here. If I had been more reckless, I would understand it but I don’t think I could be more boring and I say that as somebody’s who’s quite content to be boring!

“At one point, my daily budget was 13p. Now, my storage costs are £80 a month and I’m having to pay for a van to move my stuff. My daily budget for food is £2 so I have to be creative and cook from scratch rather than rely on expensive ready meals and meal deals. 

“There’s nothing left at the end of the month and then I have to start again, which is why I have to have it all down in a spreadsheet. There’s no chance of saving at the moment but if I get an apprenticeship, that will be a wage and I might be able to start saving.”

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Isaac says he doesn’t know a single person of his generation who has a mortgage. Even couples in decent jobs with combined incomes of £60k and supportive parents are still renting, unable to save for a deposit for a mortgage.

And the rental market is just as difficult for people in Bristol. According to recent figures, the city is now the most expensive place to rent in Britain outside of London. The average private rent in Bristol last month was £1,734.

Isaac says: “I do feel there’s a sense of frustration among people of my generation due to the cost of living and the housing market.

“I actually know people who are looking for alternative living arrangements like living in caravans or vans but that’s still quite a privileged position to be in. It used to be a cheap option but it costs a lot these days to refurbish a van to live in and the insurance is high. 

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“Most of the people who do that have a lot of savings and could probably afford a small mortgage but it’s more of a lifestyle change. A lot of these alternative solutions are geared towards people who are financially comfortable.”

So what changes would Isaac like to see for people his age who feel so trapped?

“I think we need to abolish landlordism. A lot of people of my generation can technically pay for a mortgage as they’re often paying rents that are higher than mortgages and we’re effectively paying the landlord’s mortgage anyway. I think it should be regulated more, especially landlords who have multiple properties. 

“There are plenty of homes and plenty of space to build homes so there’s no reason to be homeless. It’s just greed from landlords and I believe everyone should be entitled to a home and food.

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“It’s also frightening that so many people are just one or two mistakes or bad events away from being homelessness, whether it’s from a relationship break-up or a temporary financial problem. One month can change somebody’s life forever and I feel like the situation has never been so fragile.”

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