Since when did our kids have the right to live like Henry VIII?

The Mail on Sunday - - Comment -

OVER break­fast in Manch­ester last week at the Tory Party Con­fer­ence, I was search­ing the pa­pers for some­thing, any­thing, to read that wasn’t about my older brother – for some light re­lief, re­ally – when my eye fell on this. ‘ Shame­less Tory uni­ver­si­ties Min­is­ter tells strug­gling stu­dents to “live fru­gally”,’ a head­line in a Lefty red-top wailed.

Just prov­ing the old say­ing: if it’s not one thing… it’s your brother.

I then read in the Mir­ror that Jo John­son MP had told a fringe meet­ing that in or­der to make ends meet, stu­dents could work, they could save, they could bor­row from their par­ents. ‘Some stu­dents want to live very mod­estly and have a fru­gal ex­is­tence, fo­cus­ing on their stud­ies,’ he said.

Now, I spent much of last week avoid­ing be­ing sucked into what the Home Sec­re­tary, Am­ber Rudd, mem­o­rably termed ‘ the Boris Vor­tex’. But I have to stick my oar in here for Bro Jo.

I know that stu­dent fees have tre­bled and grants have been cut and the loans sys­tem isn’t per­fect.

I re­ally do know, as it hap­pens. My two out of three chil­dren who stud­ied in the UK have left uni­ver­sity with debts run­ning into tens of thou­sands, are on low in­comes, and have no im­me­di­ate prospect of pay­ing them off.

It’s not ideal for them and mil­lions like them. But since when has ‘fru­gal’ been a trig­ger term – or the no­tion of bud­get­ing be­cause you don’t have a lot of cash to splash, of­fen­sive – even ‘shame­less’?

When I grew up, I re­mem­ber go­ing shop­ping with my mother for new clothes twice: once was in Deben­hams in Taun­ton, the sec­ond was in the school uni­form de­part­ment of Har­rods.

I re­mem­ber eat­ing out in the UK only once (but only spag bol, as it was the cheap­est thing on the menu). We slept in the car rather than spend money on ho­tel rooms when trav­el­ling.

My par­ents were born in the war, money was tight. It was fine.

Any­way, look at Her Majesty the Queen. She doesn’t have to cut her cloth as we did, but she still scrapes left­overs into Tup­per­ware, she up­cy­cles cush­ion cov­ers from old so­fas, she saves on heat­ing bills by us­ing two-bar elec­tric fires in draughty sit­ting rooms, and re­laxes by do­ing her own wash­ing- up. She is in fact so fru­gal – try­ing not to say mean or tight – that ‘Elizabeth and Henry VIII would be ap­palled’, the for­mer cu­ra­tor of the Royal palaces, Si­mon Thur­ley, said last week. Thur­ley at­tributes Her Majesty’s famed thrift to ‘a gen­er­a­tional thing’.

But I can’t be alone in long­ing for this ad­mirable qual­ity to be­come a na­tional habit as our fi­nances worsen, and one that per­co­lates down to our stu­dent co­hort, in­clud­ing my own beloved chil­dren, who all seem to tend more to the Tu­dor when it comes to con­sump­tion. I have to bite my tongue when the end­less pack­ages from Ama­zon and Asos ar­rive, and the piz­zas and cur­ries are De­liv­erooed ( I lived on baked pota­toes for four years when I was a stu­dent).

I want to frog­march them to the full fridge and burst­ing wardrobes and show them all the stuff that’s there (in­clud­ing parme­san rinds I save for soup and the food past its sell-by that I in­sist, af­ter giv­ing it a quick sniff, is per­fectly ed­i­ble).

IALSO won­der where the money’s com­ing from for all this new stuff, while be­rat­ing my­self pri­vately for not in­still­ing the re­gal virtue of fru­gal­ity into them from an early age. A sec­ond-year stu­dent was big enough to blog – in the brief flurry that fol­lowed Jo’s re­marks – that the Min­is­ter had a point.

‘Dur­ing my first year of uni, I met many peo­ple who couldn’t look af­ter their money,’ she ad­mit­ted. ‘Con­tin­u­ous nights out were fol­lowed by ex­pen­sive take­aways or lav­ish shop­ping sprees, and when they ran out of money they dipped into that huge over­draft or went cry­ing to the bank of mum and dad.’

Ouch. This sounds all too fa­mil­iar, I’m afraid…

Rachel John­son Fol­low Rachel on Twit­ter @RachelSJohn­son

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