Karolina Zgola, a 29-year-old from Poznan, is a paragon of the new work ethic in Poland.
Marta Piątkowska, Gazeta Wyborcza, in Poznan
With full-time jobs scarce, two-thirds of young people must make do with temporary contracts, on wages still very low by western European standards.
The solution? Get as much work as you can, even if it means doing four or five different things.
"By profession, I am a makeup artist. Apart from that, I design bags and work as part of the crew during photo sessions. I also organise weddings and do flower decorations," says Karolina. She also teaches makeup techniques to those who want to join the business. It makes for some very busy weeks – but still no guaranteed salary or paid holiday.
Karolina says she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life when a teenager. This changed when it turned out she had failed mathematics in her secondary school exams. "I had to forget about studying at university. Ten years ago it was a real tragedy. I heard so many times that I had ruined my life," she says.
While her friends were in their first year of university and she was waiting for a retake of her exams, she started working. Karolina says that year was a "breakthrough" for her. "I had time to find my own way," she says.
"It all started when I interned in a florist's shop. The job quickly turned into a passion. At that time, I started going to makeup school. After that, I was accepted into a respected school that taught flower arrangement and I started working for a well-known florist's shop. After a few years of work, I decided to start my own business," she says.
Karolina says her life is now quite hectic. During the week she sometimes works on photoshoots that takes her all over Poland. "I go to sleep in Warsaw and start the morning with a photoshoot in Poznan," she says.
On the weekends, she organises weddings and does makeup for brides. Between all this she designs handbags which are then sewn by her mother. She says she now wants to focus on promoting her own handbag brand. "Up till now it has been a hobby but I think there is a future in that and it could soon by my main source of income," she says.
Karolina has no steady income. But she says she doesn't need that much. "I want a vacation twice a year and a long weekend once in a while."
She like sushi and spends a lot of money on petrol. She also says she "avoids banks like the plague. If I want to invest in equipment, I simply save up for it." She adds: "I meet many people who are doing different jobs at the same time."
She says it's "cool because you don't fall into a routine. But you mustn't forget that everything you do, you must do very well," she adds. "I am lucky because I love the work I do."
Joseba Elola, El País, in Madrid
Cases of middle-class people with cashflow problems were never alien to him. Luis worked in the legal department at the bank Caja Madrid for years, handling the papers day in, day out, for default proceedings. Little by little, he saw how classic cases of bad debtors were joined by new profiles: people who weren't usually on lists of this sort, people who were not on the fringes of society – in a word, middle-class folk.
Little could he have imagined that at 57, it would be his turn to struggle to stay off those lists. Now he's already on the list of the unemployed, along with his wife, who's been out of work for five years. They have given up their credit cards, and this month their home internet connection has been cut off – one more expense they just can't afford.
In front of the Inem (national employment office) near the Méndez Álvaro bus station in Madrid, Luis talks about his predicament.
"A litre of petrol already costs more than a cup of coffee," says Luis. "Our car's just gathering dust now." What savings the family had have been dwindling over the past few years, especially since his wife lost her job as an administrative assistant.
Their elder son, a 27-year-old economist, is doing an internship at an insurance company; as Luis puts it, he's "working for free". So this four-person family (the younger son is 15) has an income of €1,400, the amount Luis receives in early retirement pay. His mortgage eats up €600. Another €300 is debited for the loan he took out to pay back an advance. Which leaves €500 to get through the whole month. The days when they could go away on holiday are a distant memory; the luxury of going out is a thing of the past. "We've got to make it through the whole month on what we have."
Goodbye to the book club and to the union dues he used to pay. And next month, goodbye to the €90 they pay to have television, telephone and internet. "I used to work and live with a certain degree of security, but everything has changed," he says. "Emotionally, you feel awful. I've still got a little life in me, I don't think what's happened to me is fair. At 57, I don't have any chance of finding work anymore."
Luis Fernández, head of Adesorg, an association of the unemployed, puts it quite clearly: "Those of us who've been unemployed for a while have adapted: we work on the sly, slave labour, and we're going to start growing feathers from eating so much chicken. But I'm worried about what's going to happen with the upper-middle class: they're going to end up in this phase soon and the trauma's going to be huge. From having a settled life, even if without a whole lot of luxuries, to being treated like dirt."
Translated by Eric Rosencrantz
Federico Taddia, La Stampa
Daniele Mondiale, a 30-year-old architect from Almenno San Salvatore, left home 10 years ago, "wanting to conquer the world". But this year, he was forced to return to live with his parents.
"When I told Mum and Dad that the only way I could make it to the end of the month was to come back and live under their roof, I felt a mixture of conflicting emotions: on the one hand, a sense of failure and humiliation, but on the other, the peace of mind that comes with knowing I had given it my all but had come up against a difficult period in history."
For a while, things were good for Daniele. He graduated in architecture at Milan Polytechnic, and quickly got to the point of earning around €2,000 a month. He rented a studio and was financially independent. "It was 2007, before the financial crisis, and for a couple of years I had a real sense that I was building a future for myself. It was an illusion, though; a flash in the pan."
The economic situation closed the building sites: everything suddenly became more difficult. The drop in the amount of work available prompted fierce competition and the immediate consequence was that payments went down.
"The big fish – the well-established practices – started snapping up all the work, leaving us smaller fish without a scrap. They were paying their part-timers ridiculous sums. And at the same time the cost of living was going up unstoppably: it became impossible to live off an amount of money that would have covered shopping, petrol and the bills just months earlier."
So Daniele and a colleague decided to flat-share, splitting the rent on a small loft apartment on the outskirts of town. The plan was to carve out a small workspace in addition to the living area. But that idea soon foundered. "In place of the studio we put in two extra beds so we could sublet. After 10 years, it felt like I was back where I had started: living in a flat with three other people and sharing a bedroom with somebody else to make ends meet. It wasn't exactly how I had imagined my life turning out."
In the end Daniele gave up. With a degree and a masters and studying for a doctorate, he packed his bags and headed back home. It has not been a dead end. "I've put 'architect' on a nameplate under the doorbell. I started to put myself about and put my name into circulation. Unexpected opportunities have opened up for me here, whereas in the city I was just one of many," he says. He has picked up some projects and earns around €1,500 a month – "still not enough for me to live by myself, but I'm hoping that I've set off on the right track".
Living conditions remain undesirable. "I've carved out a small room in the attic of the house where I grew up, with my own bathroom but a shared kitchen and hallway. It's not easy getting used to not having your own personal space and time any longer. Nor is it easy living again with your parents, who will always see you as their child and so, inevitably, will tell you off if you're late for dinner, ask you where you went the night before with your friends, and give you disapproving looks if you go out onto the veranda to smoke a cigarette.
"No, it's not easy getting used to all that again, especially after having savoured the taste of independence and of being able to get by on your own.
Randeep Ramesh, the Guardian
Stuart Noden's story is a cautionary tale of how life can fall apart quickly in an age of austerity. The 51-year-old worked for more than three decades as a cabinet maker in Manchester. Until recently he had a house and took foreign holidays twice a year.
Since he blacked out and fell while working on the roof of his house two years ago, Noden's life has collapsed. He had a series of mini-strokes in March followed by a full stroke in June. He's been left with weakness down his left side, relies on a walking stick to get about and has regular seizures. Unsurprisingly, he has not worked since March.
"I used to work every day, never was ill for 33 years. Now I can barely walk and get so tired I sleep all day," Noden said. But his health woes are only part of the problem. In Britain, the financial and fiscal crisis has been felt most acutely in those areas targeted for cuts by a government determined to rein in public debt.
The hospital cardiologist told him he could no longer drive and would not be able to return to work. Yet he failed to score enough points to qualify for the welfare payment designed to assist people who are incapacitated through sickness.
He claims the government assessor did not take any notes about the problems he has been experiencing and knew nothing about the hidden implications of his condition.
The points system, begun as a trial under the last administration and expanded under the coalition, determines who can qualify for the benefit, known as the employment and support allowance. Critics say it is being used surreptitiously to cut the welfare roll.
"They told me I only scored six points and I needed 15. I can't work and have been in and out of hospital. If I cannot get benefits, who can?"
Noden has appealed but says he was told by the Department for Work and Pensions this would take at least six months. "Bloody crazy," he says.
The Stroke Association, a national charity helping Noden in his appeal, in a survey of 2,200 stroke survivors earlier this year found that 38% had not received an assessment of their needs – effectively denying them welfare help.
Noden describes the world of benefits as a Kafkaesque "hell of people being rude and saying no". The decision not to award ESA has cost him £90 a week. He also applied for unemployment benefits but was denied support because he was not in a medically fit state to apply for work.
He then applied for a disability allowance, but was considered to be insufficiently disabled to receive this benefit. He then applied for housing benefit and initially received £10 a week which has now been stopped.
The couple became reliant on his wife's £574 monthly pay as a cleaner. With a £72,000 mortgage costing £520 a month, they knew they would not be able to survive on one income alone. "We are getting by on £25 a week. My wife cannot get more hours to work. So we are eating frozen meals and getting all our food from freezer shops. It's not easy to survive, to be honest."
The couple are about to lose their home after falling behind on their mortgage repayments. "The bank was fine with us reducing the payments until a few weeks ago when they started proceedings against us when I was in hospital. They had people come to the house to see that I had not run off or something."
Once homeless, Noden will have to be housed by the local council, with taxpayers' cash being used to pay to keep a roof over his head. "If they had given me benefits in the first place we could have stayed in our own house. Instead, the bank gets the house and the government and council will pay for me to live somewhere. Crazy."
Béatrice Gurrey, Le Monde, in Cergy-Pontoise
"Oh, sauteed potatoes, yum, yum. I want them all," says Bastien, six, as he comes home from baseball. His four-year-old brother, Alban, scrapes clean his dessert bowl. Their mother, Clémence Auchère, explains belt-tightening, French style.
First there is the kitchen: new, yes, like an Ikea showroom, but installed by her husband, Fabrice, during the summer holidays. Then there are the cutbacks on holidays and going out.
"We no longer allow ourselves the luxury of going to the other end of the world as we might like. We don't go skiing, we have cut back on our cultural life, and think twice about everything," says Clémence.
Property taxes have gone up by a third over the past three years, and the Auchères are not convinced by the French government's austerity plan. "We know there are more efforts that have to be made. But that we'll also be exploited," she adds.
The Auchères decided to move out of Paris just as the crisis was blowing up. Clémence's salary as a nurse barely paid for childcare. Rent, parking and food all added up. "I couldn't afford new clothes and even birthday presents and having friends over to dinner were hard to afford," she says.
Property prices pushed them 30 miles out of Paris, where they found a four-room apartment for just under €200,000 (£161,000) in Cergy-Pontoise. The mortgage costs €1,400 a month – almost half of Fabrice's take-home pay.
Clémence is not expecting a crisis as big as those in Greece and Spain, but is anticipating a more sober future. "Taxes will continue to go up, while public services will become smaller and smaller in terms of human and financial resources."
Her husband, an audiovisual technician, says working conditions have become harder. Until 2010, his events company had a succession of good years. Now clients are cutting back and want bigger, quicker events for less money. Working days are getting longer, pressure is rising – but salaries are not.
Away from the furrowed brows, Bastien and Alban have fallen asleep. They can sleep easy. Their parents prefer to go without themselves, rather than cutting back on the fees for the baseball and hip-hop courses. They'd rather cut out restaurants and ice creams.
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