Too many people can't pay their rent. Due to a noxious combination of low wages, high rents, soaring utilities, job insecurity (zero hours contracts with exclusivity clauses) and the looming threat of redundancy, I've been contacted by several readers who can't pay. But here are the measures taken and lengths, deprivations endured and humiliations tolerated to cover their essential rent.
No xmas presents. None. Nothing whatsoever at all. One of my friends can't buy even a tiny gift for her new nephew, another has nothing to thank her supportive family. Yes, xmas is a febrile fiesta of escalating greed, even so, this has happened for the third year in a row, which is demeaning. Not everyone can make something. But she needs to pay her rent.
Porridge for xmas brunch (late to rise to stay under the warm duvet for as long as possible). Porridge for dinner. Porridge for every meal over the xmas holidays. People are not eating properly, if at all, but at least they're paying their rent.
Meeting a potential work colleague in a coffee bar, hoping for seasonal freelance work. My friend had just enough in her purse for one coffee, a rare treat to be cradled and savoured. Contact arrives, but oops - he'd forgotten his wallet. She had enough for herself and the fare home in the darkness of midwinter. Desperate for work, keen to show willing - if not ingratiate herself, she 'loaned' her contact a coffee, and walked home in the sleet. Because she couldn't afford to dip into her rent.
The worry, fretting, not sleeping then simply panicking. The stress is remorseless, unrelenting and worsens. Bellies half-full, minds in turmoil, life lived on a day-by day basis. So tenants can pay the rent.
Kids, who overhear their parents agree to ask for cash and to put into the household budget. So they can pay the rent. Fine dining on value brands and gratefully accepted food-bank bounty. So they can pay the rent.
There are days of holiday in the cold weather, when warm libraries and museums are closed, so pondering a bracing country walk, which is free, but does create a healthy appetite, which you can't feed. Mothers deciding to stay huddled with miserable, fractious, disappointed children under a blanket, afraid to boil the kettle. So they can pay the rent.
Selling everything (I mean everything - that is, absolutely everything) other than basic essentials. So you can pay the rent.
Actually begging in the street to see if you can raise something, to buy food, so you can pay the rent. Lunching on tiny bite-size samples of xmas food. Overhearing your richer friends complaining that you've never repaid that tenner from a few months back. Because you need to pay your rent.
No headache pills or plasters, eking out toothpaste, rationing toilet paper, painful lumps in over-darned socks. Cuts from blunt razors, clothes un-ironed, length of shower rationed on the electrical appliances and scant telly time. Because you paid the rent.
Fearing the unexpected, or anything outside of your strict, regimented budget, such as leaking shoes, a coat being stolen, or a broken pay-as-you-go phone. So you can pay the rent.
Cancelling xmas, because if you do that, you might just if you squeeze, and don't eat for a day (it's only one day, right?) then might just about be able to pay your rent.
Will 2014 be the year that we descend upon Downing Street with pitchforks? I hope so. Because we need to comfortably pay the rent.