Millennials Are the Ones Left to Pick Up the Mess of Generation X

A competitive job market and rising costs across the board means Cardiff millennials will continue to struggle thanks to generation X’s greed

Competitive house prices are forcing millennials to pay high rents on low wages, limiting their chances of getting on the property ladder


The conversation of poverty has predominantly centred around children and the elderly. However, as a generation facing low wages, competitive job markets, high debt and staggering rises in areas such as tuition fees and house prices, millennials are expected to suffer the most. 

A number of factors including zero-hour contracts, commission-only jobs and rising living costs are making it next to impossible for millennials to mirror the success of generation X; those born between the early 1960s and late 1970s. Acquiring a mortgage to get onto the property ladder, saving for a healthy deposit, or anything that will help carve. a brighter future has proved challenging. 

But is generation X to blame for this struggle? Jane Henshaw, Labour councillor for Splott, a ward that has experienced some of the highest levels of poverty, says, “It is a blight on the lives of people between the ages of 18 and 35. Stagnant wages, zero hours contracts and high rent are a toxic mix. Young people are paying the price for 2008 the banking crisis.”

The debt generation

Easy access to short-term payday loans has contributed to the vicious cycle of poverty, particularly for millennials succumbing to modern societal pressures to achieve a desirable lifestyle made worse by the expectations of their parents. 

After establishing a high-flying career in the city, an unexpected redundancy has left Lucy broke, in considerable debt and fighting for full-time employment in a competitive job market


According to debt charity StepChange, 54% of 18-39 year-olds in Wales have used their services. It’s an over-represented figure of clients within that age group, as Will Berrington, the charity’s media and policy officer, explains. “We’ve been seeing increasing numbers of young people coming to StepChange for the past five years. Under 40s represented just 58% of our clients in 2014, but this has now risen to 65%,” says Will. “The rise in insecure work and the flexible labour market may be putting significant pressure on those in employment, with unpredictable monthly incomes adding to the already difficult situation of those in debt.” 

Nathan knows all too well about the damage caused by payday loans. Now an account manager at a national telecommunications company based in Cardiff, Nathan, 33, is experiencing the damaging aftermath of loans acquired years ago when he was working as a call centre agent and in a pub on weekends. “My main focus in life was buying clothes from my favourite brands and never missing a party,” says Nathan. Payments are made every month and, as a result, he has suffered a terrible credit rating. His dreams of owning his own property have dwindled and although he earns a healthy salary and commission on top, loan payments have left him struggling to pay some of his bills.

“Stagnant wages, zero hours contracts and high rent are a toxic mix”

Jane Henshaw, Labour councillor for Splott

Earlier this year, funding of almost £2m from the European Union was meant to be a key factor in reducing in-work poverty, specifically targeting 1,400 individuals across Newport, Cardiff and Monmouthshire to offer a selection of what Welsh Government labels “community-based learning opportunities.” The four-year scheme, Skills@Work, is also a factor to reducing the growing issue and supplying the fundamental skills attractive to prospective employers.

When the funding to create the Skills@Work scheme was announced, Ken Skates, minister for economy and transport, said it would help those in areas where in-work poverty was  prevalent. He also claimed how the scheme would help those achieve greater skills that appear more attractive to employers. Now, he says the Welsh Government is firmly on the side of the working population. “Against the terrible backdrop of austerity, we’ve been investing in key drivers of productivity and earnings, such as improving skills, infrastructure, innovation and enterprise,” says Ken. “We are fighting tirelessly for Wales to be a more equal society, where people have worthwhile, rewarding employment that contributes to ending in-work poverty.” Comment is yet to be made on the progress of Skills@Work.

An ambiguous future

The general election has also touched on this growing issue, although there has been no mention specifically on the benefits to the millennial generation. Labour says it plans to increase the minimum wage to a minimum of £10 per hour for everyone over the age of 16; the Conservatives hope to lift minimum wage to two-thirds of median earnings, potentially reaching £10.50 per hour in five years time for everyone over the age of 21; and the Liberal Democrats are pledging a 20% rise in the minimum wage to £9.85 per hour, available to anyone over the age of 25 currently on a zero-hour contract.

Despite promises made, The generation of poverty report by the Resolution Foundation concludes with a clear message of how millennials are likely to face the highest working-age poverty rates to date. It’s expected that those born between 1991-95 will be in “relative poverty” in their late 20s, meaning a high percentage of millennials will struggle to make the average standard of living and are the ones that are truly left behind. 

As millennials strive to develop their employability skills and standout in a competitive job market, they are also subjected to dealing with the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis; this includes increasing house prices and an economy still trying to recover from its downfall. The upcoming general election and uncertainty surrounding Brexit has made it an especially difficult period for millennials to make any concrete plans.

Originally published here on Alt.Cardiff

The Work-Life Balancing Act

Setting up early in time for the daily 9am conference call, meetings with clients to discuss potential new projects, the agonising ordeal working out the monthly expenditure and – most importantly – the 6pm curfew to have dinner with the family or make a friend’s birthday party can certainly take its toll and prove challenging.

Managing a business and doing everything in your power to be involved in all aspects of your family’s and friends’ lives is overwhelming for anyone. Here, Penarth View speaks with Steve Morgan, a Caerphilly-based father-of-two and owner of Morgan Online Marketing to find out first-hand how he juggles the problematic task of separating his business and family lives.

1. What does a typical day look like for you?

I know it sounds cliché, but there’s no typical working day. I’m a freelance digital marketing consultant with a focus on search engine optimisation (SEO) so my usual day-to-day work mostly involves tasks and activities for clients based around that. I also juggle running the Cardiff SEO Meet via Meetup and promoting a book that I recently self-published called Anti-Sell (although I try to do those activities during evenings and weekends) to do billable client work during office hours, corresponding with my clients’ working patterns – mostly because I do my best work during mornings and afternoons.

Where and how I work varies, though. I have a home office but also work out of a co-working space (Welsh ICE in Caerphilly). This depends on whether I’m doing the school run that day, or whether my wife is going to her office or working away. I also try to work four days per week instead of five, so that I can spend more time with my two-year-old son.

2. What would you say is the hardest part of maintaining work-life balance?

Getting the balance right in terms of how many clients you work with at one time. I try and aim for four to six billable hours in an eight-hour day, but that doesn’t account for holidays, or sick days, or if I under-quote a project (and therefore it’s bigger/longer than I expected). Despite having been a freelancer for over six years now, I still under-quote projects: the last two took longer than expected. This meant I had to work more during the evenings and weekends to make it up, placing some strain on social and family commitments.

3. What challenges did you face with maintaining a social and family life at the start of your freelance career?

I’m very lucky in that I did a lot of my networking pre-freelance and I didn’t start a family until one or two years into freelancing. It’s a lot more of a challenge now that I have two children ages five and two. That said, I thankfully can still network with people via social media and also at my co-working space, so there’s still some social aspects even if I have less availability to attend networking events.

4. Now that you have children, are there any added pressures to maintaining work-life balance?

Absolutely! Things like the school run and doctors appointments can eat into my work day. There’s also the guilt that comes with thinking, “should I be taking more time off to spend with them?” despite mostly work four-day weeks. I’m already spending extra time with them than I might not have done otherwise. And if I take any time to myself (which is important to do) I feel guilty that I could be working or spending time with the family.

5. What advice would you give to other business owners that struggle with separating their personal and work lives?

Separate your home life and your work life as much as possible. Try and get yourself into an office or co-working space that’s separate to your home; that way, when you get home in the evening, you can try to ‘switch off’ from work. If having an office/co-working space is not possible, at the very least make sure you have a separate room in your home as a dedicated office. I made the mistake years ago of working a full-time job from my living room coffee table and I felt like I was there 24/7!

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South Wales is full of entrepreneurs! What advice do others have to maintain a good work-life balance?

“As a mum of five (and a self-confessed workaholic) I often find it hard to switch off from work, particularly as I work from home. I now have a schedule that I stick to religiously, to ensure I have the perfect work/life balance. Housework, children, work and ‘me time’ is all divided up into equal measures and it works wonderfully. My advice to anyone running their own business is to make sure you take time out for yourself and your family – children aren’t young forever, and it goes by in a flash!”

Claire Roach, CEO of Cardiff Web Services and Founder/Blogger of Daily Deals UK 

“You work to live, not live to work. So the work has to be enjoyable, but if it’s your own business it easily becomes your life, and all consuming. It’s important to set defined time for life outside of work. Technology means that you can work around the clock, but the same technology lets us leave a voice message saying, “I’m not available, but will get back to when I can”. The rule to balancing work and life is the use of technology and learning when to be, and not to be, available. Honestly, people will not mind!”

Peter Ibbetson, Co-Founder/ Director of JournoLink

As the owner of an HR consultancy, I advocate flexible working and work-life balance to our clients. I set up the business four years ago and I truly believe I have achieved what I set out to do. With the help of my team (who also work flexibly) I am now able to balance both worlds effectively. Sometimes I find the work has to take a priority, and other times childcare and home matters take over, but it is important to recognise that both exist and need to work in harmony. Over the past two summers, I was able to take off a large chunk of the school holidays and will be doing the same indefinitely during term time to make sure that I enjoy the best of both worlds.  

Caryl Thomas, Director of HR Dept Cardiff

Article originally published here




Part Two: I Ran Away to Canada, Only to Hit Rock Bottom

CTV’s ‘Your Morning’ was my only company when I woke up. The sound of regular co-host Anne-Marie Mediwake’s voice was my substitute for an alarm clock and, by that time, JD had already left for work to beat the subway rush hour from Dundas to Lawrence.

I’d jump out of bed, wrap up in JD’s dressing gown and walk down the three flights of stairs to the kitchen to make some cereal and creep back up in time for the ‘Life & Style’ segment. I’d then walk across the hallway – towel, clothes and toiletries in tow – to the bathroom for a shower (hoping no one else was already in there and one particular girl had left the sink plughole free of any long, curly hairs) then back to the bedroom to finish getting dressed in as many layers as I could find that fell out of the full to the brim wardrobe of mine and JD’s clothes.

By this point, the snow had worsened and temperatures plummeted. Torontonians knew how to soldier on as if it was part of everyday life but, as a Brit, I was used to everything being shut down or trains cancelled even if the slightest flutter of snow had hit the ground. While JD and many other young city professionals braved the chill in Canada Goose jackets and sturdy Hanwag hiking boots, my H&M green parka (not at all waterproof) and mud-stained Timberland boots kept me from contracting frostbite or falling arse over tit as I walked through the financial district or on Bay St.

I would sit for hours at a time in Starbucks sipping on hot chocolate and write blog posts, send messages to friends back home and even check up on how things were going at my previous job. Honestly, I found great satisfaction in finding any spelling mistakes or formatting errors on the websites I once edited as I’d heard from a former colleague that they could only get a junior to fill in after my abrupt departure. As for my family, I hadn’t had any communication with my mother since I messaged her to say I had landed safely in Toronto, my father sent one or two messages but mainly communicated through memes instead of picking up the phone, and my sister was fairly preoccupied with getting over her latest break-up and drowning her sorrows in the dives of Hertford with a mutual friend of ours.

In the afternoons, I would face the bitter cold winds by walking past Union Station, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) building and the complex for the CN Tower and Rogers Centre to a quiet café in Chinatown. Here, I plucked up the courage to apply for part-time work in order to try and reach some kind of agreement with JD; I couldn’t keep on with my lifestyle the way it was, and I needed to start working for my own sanity.

Even the number of messages from JD throughout the day had started to dwindle – no longer was he checking in every hour to see if I was still at home or out buying food and, although I started to feel more relaxed about our situation and our growing trust for one another, he was coming home from work later and later in the evenings. I knew from his overall demeanour and reaction to my initial plans in finding a job and a new place to stay that it was best to keep questions at a minimum. He would come home stressed and tired from what he would say was the ‘day from hell’ dealing with back-to-back patients, and that’s how we left it. No prodding and demanding explanations – this was my first serious relationship and I wasn’t going to let everything fall apart just yet.

Woody’s and Pegasus Bar were our regular hangouts on the weekend. The same faces that sat at the bar with their heads down in a newspaper or trying their luck at one of the fruit machines became regular acquaintances, the barmen knew our orders before we even sat down on the stools, and if we went day drinking, we would always get caught up in having to talk to the elderly gay men that stumbled out of the bar where they played all day bingo and were entertained by 19-year-old strippers desperate for some extra cash.

One Saturday, we arrived at Woody’s and bumped into another acquaintance who was propped up at the bar. Daniel was someone we met a few weekends previous at Pegasus. He claimed to be an immigration officer: tall, dark, finely groomed beard and always alone. JD handed over some cash after I’d offered to pick up the drinks while the two exchanged pleasantries and moved toward a table at the back of the bar. I walked to the table with the tray of drinks to what appeared to be a quiet showdown of over-expressive faces and hand gestures. They both stopped when they noticed me slowly approaching. I put down the tray and sat on the only available seat between the two. “Everything alright?”, I said as Daniel immediately changed the subject to what I thought of my time in Canada so far. He asked if I’d made plans to visit any other cities. “I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver”, I replied only to get a scolding glare from JD that I noticed at the corner of my eye. There was an awkward tension around the table, and I was relieved that once he’d finished his drink, Daniel left us to hit another bar across the street.

“Let’s talk”, JD said once Daniel had disappeared out of sight. I thought this was another moment where his blood would boil and guilt-trip me into staying with him. “How would you like to come and visit my parents with me on Monday?” I was taken aback by his unexpected proposal. Very seldom would he mention his parents or anything about his childhood, and I was the same. “They are going to love you!”, he said. I reluctantly agreed, excited that a guy actually asked me to meet his parents, but bewildered by JD’s seemingly heated exchange with Daniel a few moments ago. “We’ll set off Monday morning and come back on Sunday. It will give you a chance to see the real Canada”.

JD had pre-ordered tickets to set off at 07.30 Monday morning. We jumped on a Go Bus from Union Station and headed to Uxbridge, a small town an-hour-and-a-half north of Toronto where he had grown up. The roads were pretty treacherous and progressively worse as the bus drove further away from the city. The scenery along the way reminded me of all the times I went to visit my nan from my mother’s side as a child; the countryside was near identical to that of Cambridgeshire, and the isolation away from a big town, supermarkets and pubs brought me back to when my sister and I would have to make our ‘own entertainment’ by feeding the ducks, setting up a badminton net or helping our granddad on the compost heap.

His mother, Lisa, came to meet us at a bar in the town centre where the locals were startled to come across an English person as they recognised my accent when I’d ordered a drink. A short, stumpy lady with gold chains and rings waddled her way through the door, embraced JD and extended her hand to introduce herself to me. I was introduced as his ‘new friend’: not partner, not boyfriend, just ‘new friend’.

We arrived at the house to be welcomed by a bichon frise jumping up at the driveway gate and his step-father, Rodrigo (he liked to be called Rigo for short) working out of his garage and flinging garbage into a skip. As soon as we stepped inside through a side door, I was given a pair of slippers to wear: “We never wear shoes inside the house”, Lisa said. I took off my Timberland boots, slid on the pair of white slippers and entered the hallway. “This will be your part of the house, Jack”, Lisa said as we continued down a narrow corridor to the bedroom. She held the bedroom door open for me as I struggled with my luggage, hitting a stone-crafted stand that had a collection of travel minis and two towels on top of it. Lisa cringed at the possibility of potential damage when the stand grazed the wall, but thankfully I escaped any rage as no marks were made.

I messaged JD to come and meet me in my room. I’d lost him along the way when Lisa was showing me where I would be staying; I thought JD would be with me, but I’m sure Lisa and Rigo would not approve of ‘new friends’ staying together in the same room. I unpacked my stuff, checked my phone and still no response. I left the bedroom and found my way to the living room where they were all slumped on the sofa watching Judge Judy. ‘Rigo, this is Jack. Jack, this is my step-father, Rigo’. His handshake was firm, his tone overpowering and remarked that my accent sounded ‘weird’.

On our first night, Lisa suggested we all go to a chinese restaurant a few towns away. I was under the impression that this was to make me feel welcome, however I soon realised they already made plans to meet a business partner there to discuss a second spa opening in Ottawa. Lisa ran a small beauty spa at the side of the house, and due to its ‘popularity’, was excited at the concept of expanding to a second location.

The next morning, Rigo asked for JD and I to join him in picking up some rock salt from a local supplier. Here we bumped into Rigo’s neighbours: two brothers that, once they saw us pull into the parking lot, had noticeably tried to avoid eye contact. Rigo, with his overbearing arrogance and dictatorship was someone to try and avoid at all costs. The brothers didn’t get away too easily and were subjected to a mini presentation of the new spa – picture after picture showing the new layout and surrounding grounds. I found some kind of solace in the brothers’ giving sly eye rolls to each other and breathing a sigh of relief after Rigo ordered us to get on with picking up the heavy bags of rock salt.

We returned to the house and straight away put to work in helping dispose of any junk out of the garage, clearing a mountain of boxes from the bar area and moving new equipment to the spa. I stayed there for an entire week moving heavy boxes and furniture in and out of the spa, cleaning all the equipment and even helping to clean the back rooms, and I never saw one customer walk through those doors. The spa was open, the spa assistant made herself comfortable by putting her feet up on the reception desk sipping cups of tea, but I struggled to understand how this ‘popular’ spa would be able to open a second location.

Not only did I help these strangers get their house in order, I regrettably mentioned that I had a background in writing marketing material for conferences and business networking events. As soon as they heard this, they preyed on me to write all of the content for their new brochures. “We need the content to be quite substantial: a biography, a description of all the treatments, prices, special deals. Can you manage that?” I really wanted to say, “Do it your fucking self”, but it’s not like I could say no – I was in the middle of nowhere, if they asked me to leave I’d have been dragging my suitcase for miles to the nearest bus stop and end up living back at the hostel.

That’s how I spent my evenings, writing page after page for them to not even look at the final product. No time was spent with JD; I tried sending messages for him to come down to my room late at night, but no response. When we did have a quiet moment together for me to confront him, he would always say he was asleep by a really early time, or Rigo needed a hand in the backyard. Alarm bells were ringing: something wasn’t quite right.

Sunday morning. It had probably been the longest week of my life and I knew that I only had to endure one more breakfast around the kitchen table before we set off. I excitedly made sure my stuff was already packed the night before, and as we were about to leave, Rigo wanted to have a quick word with me in private. Maybe he wanted to say thank you for all the hard work, maybe he suspected that I was more than just JD’s ‘new friend’. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to have a one-on-one conversation with him. He lead me down the staircase to hallway. “Here, this is for you – something to remember me by”. A calculator. A fucking calculator. After the suffering of adhering to his directions, pretending to laugh at his god-awful jokes and all the work I put in to help convey the right message for their spa, my efforts only equated to a calculator.

Lisa dropped us off at the station; a warm embrace for JD and a firm handshake for me – no thank you, just a handshake. I clearly remember thinking I never want to see these people ever again. We waited for the bus back to what I call civilisation, the journey back was packed and felt like an eternity to get to the city and my comfort zone. JD was still being cagey, and we only spoke if I needed to move out the way so he could use the toilet. I read a book, he watched some bullshit comedy on his phone, and that’s how we left it. I never did ask him why he never introduced me as more than a ‘new friend’. I didn’t want to push him in divulging any uncomfortable information; I just hoped he would turn back to the affectionate boyfriend he was before we left for Uxbridge.

Over the next few days, his behaviour started to claw back to what it was when we first met. He was even making more of an effort to get home from work at a reasonable time, and I would wake up to a hot cup of coffee at the side of the bed before he left in the mornings. My life went back to how it was before: waiting around in coffee shops, making friends with the gay village regulars and venturing out to either the local Metro store near King Street or to the CF Eaton Centre, where I would browse high-end stores that I dreamt of shopping in ever since I read my first issue of GQ at age 14.

We planned to stay in one Friday evening. Nothing special: movies, pizza, watch some Netflix and then an early wakeup call as he promised to take me to the the Hockey Hall of Fame. I ordered the food and flicked through Netflix’s ‘Recently Added’ while JD was in the shower. His phone was left under a pair of jeans at the end of the bed and I could feel a vibration for a few seconds, then another as I was about to select a film to watch. I flipped the jeans on the floor with my foot and pressed the menu button. It’s hard to explain the compulsion I felt to press this button. I never thought I would be one of those people that would snoop through a partner’s phone; I always looked down at that kind of behaviour. But something at the forefront of my mind was telling me that I needed to take a look. ‘D’ must have been enamoured with me, “So what’s the plan with Jack?” Another one a few moments later, “Have you spoken to him yet?” I look back with regret and think I should have just left there and then, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I kept the phone in my lap and waited until he entered the bedroom. “D must be very concerned that you haven’t told me something”. I held the phone still with my right hand as I watched him focus directly on its screen. He then proceeded to hide his face with a nervous embarrassment, his cheeks and temples flushed with a shade of pink and he started to ferociously dry his hair with the towel.

“You need to trust me…”

Part One: I Ran Away to Canada, Only to Hit Rock Bottom

It’s 8pm on a Monday night. I’m struggling to find one piece of writing that I am truly proud of. Deadline for distribution is tomorrow and, once again, I’m faced with featuring subpar news and feature articles catering to industries I couldn’t care less about.

Let me put everything into context: after a disastrous stint reporting for a medical trade magazine in London – working with snobby, self-important hipster wannabes and being singled out because I come from a very working class background – I landed what I thought was my ‘dream job’ as an editor with a much smaller company in my hometown of Hertford.

From the get-go, I knew the salary was low compared to working in the capital, I knew a lot would be expected of me, and I knew everything from content to advertising would rest on my shoulders – but this opportunity was a step up the ladder and would show my former colleagues I could become a success outside of their pretentious bubble.

What I didn’t envisage, however, was to be treated just as bad as I was as a junior in a senior role. Sales managers and executives would try their best to humiliate me in advertising meetings, I would be berated for making or even proposing some changes to layouts, and they would constantly complain to my publisher whenever they didn’t get their own way.

I was subjected to constant scrutiny and, after finding out that my publisher had spent my bonus money on a networking event for another media brand – not to mention her plans for moving me away from my editorial colleagues to build ‘stronger relationships with the sales teams’ – I knew it was time to remove myself from of the destructive situation.

Since a small child, I dreamt of travelling the world and maybe one day building a new life abroad. I would read brochures and thoroughly search the internet looking at companies offering work abroad schemes such as BUNAC and Real Gap Experience. From doing this research, I knew Canada was a viable option for job prospects and the visa application was much simpler, and quicker, compared to the US or Australia.

By sheer luck, I managed to obtain my two-year International Experience Canada (IEC) visa within a relative short amount of time. It was a gateway to a brand new lifestyle; a chance to rethink my career path and, for the first time in my life, to really start thinking about myself and myself only. My relationship with much of my family is strained at best, and this was a good way of getting back at my guilt-tripping mother for making me stay at home during university, for working two jobs during my studies, paying for her car repairs and spending most of my hard-earned savings to cover the rent; as well as her addiction to buying new home furnishings and her insistence on only smoking the very best cigarettes.

To get ahead, I thought changing my location on Tinder would be a good idea to make new friends before I arrived in Toronto. I wasn’t used to all the matches I was receiving, but one guy really did stand out from the rest. ‘JD’ was a blonde, handsome junior doctor that physically wasn’t anyone I was used to matching with – admittedly a rather shallow advantage. We exchanged messages for a good few weeks in the lead up to my arrival in Toronto, and we planned to meet that weekend.

After checking into my hostel located in Toronto’s famous Church and Wellesley gay village, I hit the town with a girl I was sharing a dorm with called Emma, a journalism student visiting solo from Amsterdam. Our shared choice of degree was a real conversation starter, leading onto another shared interest in men as we sat in a drag bar with pints of Molson and downing tequila shots.

The next morning, Emma joined me for breakfast in the hostel kitchen. Besides nursing a sore head, I felt anxious and excited to be meeting JD that evening after what had felt like months and months of messaging. Emma was a great friend in calming my nerves, and even helped me to choose an outfit for my date. I knew I had to be back at the hostel by a reasonable time as I had to catch a bus the next morning to Brantford, where I’d committed to volunteering at a health food shop for eight weeks. But, as naive as I am, I’d imagined myself and JD reconnecting after the eight weeks, potentially building a relationship and even moving in together.

I saw JD at the corner of my eye walking up to me where we planned to meet outside a sports bar in Toronto’s CF Eaton Centre. He was shorter than I’d imagined, but still just as striking in person. He immediately went in for the hug (something I’d not encountered that much with guys in the UK) and lead me into the bar. Previous first dates consisted of asking the exact same questions already covered during the initial Tinder chats, but with JD it felt as if I were talking to a boyfriend I had been with for years: no awkward silences, no mediocre conversation and no sexual suggestiveness shown by much of the London set I found myself dating. A kiss on the cheek was how we ended the evening and he promised to drive to Hamilton (a town halfway between Toronto and Brantford) to meet for dinner during the week.

I’d made it to the bus station at around 6.30am on Sunday morning after dragging my suitcase through the thick mounds of snow, clutching a Tim Hortons with both hands and parka fully zipped in an attempt to beat off the bitter cold. My Lonely Planet guide kept me company for the two-hour bus journey to Brantford, and I was greeted to the small town by a group of revellers surrounding a lady collapsed on the floor, who was vigorously shaking and coughing up blood.

After listening to a bus driver call an ambulance, I proceeded to walk through the town where herds of homeless people occupied shop doorways with dogs and babies, but generously helped me find the health food shop as the manager had failed to send over any directions. I arrived to be greeted by a German girl who spoke broken English, who looked as if she hadn’t showered in days and sported a t-shirt with noticeable dark stains down the front. She left me to my own devices in the hallway as I waited for the co-owner, Justine, to show me around the living quarters. The kitchen was littered with empty cans, bottles, and even cigarette packets scattered on the floor and the one bedroom, housing six volunteers, was split into two bunk beds. The temperature was -10 degrees, and all I was provided with to keep me warm at night was one blanket and a pillow. More volunteers arrived back at the living quarters, failing to introduce themselves to me as they all hibernated to their bunks, miserable and snacking on what appeared to be dry cornflakes as they awaited their next shifts.

Without hesitation, and without saying goodbye to anyone, I grabbed my suitcase and escaped. I gathered my bearings to get myself back to the town centre, set up shop in the local Tim Hortons and searched high and low to find a cheap bed for the night. The only offering was a rundown motel off the highway, an hour’s walk through the heavy snow. That evening, I messaged JD to explain what had happened, anxious about what he would think, and feeling terrified about how I would find a job and a place to live.

I felt comforted by JD’s concern. He offered to drive all the way to Brantford that night to pick me up and take me back to the city, and offered for me to stay at his place until I figured out what I was going to do. I was appreciative of the lifeline but, exhausted from the rush of leaving the shop and finding the rundown motel, we agreed that I would get a bus back the next day and for me to meet him after he had finished work.

I made it back to Toronto, catching an early bus just so I could get out of Brantford as quickly as possible. I still had about six hours left until I could meet JD, which lead to using my ticket for the CN Tower I had purchased online before leaving the UK. I spent the remainder of the day anxiously waiting around in coffee shops, searching for rooms to rent on Kijiji and applying for any jobs I could to pass the time. We agreed to meet at a coffee house by St. Lawrence Market and, after being greeted with a huge hug, he grabbed my suitcase and lead the way to his house.

He shared a house with a group of students and young professionals a stone’s throw away from the Ryerson University campus, who were all very welcoming as I walked through the front door looking dishevelled and stressed from the past two days. JD assured me that I could stay with him for as long as I needed and, looking back, seemed grateful to have me around to keep him company. Although he lived with six other people, he regularly mentioned that he felt lonely as everyone else was too busy to hang out and he missed his family and friends back home in Uxbridge, Ontario.

He set off early in the morning for work, I tiptoed down the stairs trying not to wake anyone up and fixed myself some breakfast. After watching some TV, I then walked the 20 minutes to the CF Eaton Centre to hand out CVs, stopping by restaurants and coffee houses to hand out more CVs and trying to get someone to understand my English accent – the same routine went on for a week. Luckily, the little savings I had left was boosted by my last wage packet to keep me going.

One evening, he insisted on taking me out to Woody’s, a famous gay bar in the village where the TV show ‘Queer as Folk’ was filmed. Here, I decided to approach the subjects of paying some rent for the time I’d spent there, finding a job and looking for a new place to stay. The house he lived in was lovely, I loved being around him and, for once, I felt as if I was being looked after – but I wasn’t entirely comfortable. I never depended upon anyone before, I’ve always worked and found a huge sense of pride in fully supporting myself without the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ compared to a lot of my friends. Even though I would offer to pay for drinks whenever we ventured into the village, he would always beat me to the card machines.

I couldn’t work out why he was being so nice and supportive. Never had a guy looked after me financially, insisted on paying for dates, or even brought me a cup of coffee in bed before setting off for work. I still didn’t really know JD; living in such a confined space for over a week was a good training ground, but everything was moving incredibly fast.

Once I mentioned about arranging a viewing to look at a shared apartment on the other side of the village, he began to question why I would decide to leave after everything that he had done for me. I was perceived to be ungrateful, as if I just used him for a roof over my head and the opportunity to experience Toronto without a restricting budget – like many of the young travellers I shared a dorm with back at the hostel. I explained that I was craving my independence back, I needed to work and to also experience things on my own. I still wanted to keep on seeing JD; I thought by his attentiveness and nurturing nature that he was one of the rare ‘good guys’, but his immediate reaction to me making plans was startling and unexpected.

I reached out for his hand for him to leave the table and run into the men’s room. While he was away, I mentally prepared myself to be thrown out of the house and was searching through the Booking.com app to see if I could book a bed back at the hostel. After 10 minutes, he returned with another round of drinks, took my hand and pleaded for me to stay with him ‘a little while longer’. His cheeks were flushed and his forehead glistened with sweat. I knew I’d made him mad, and I was worried that by provoking JD more and sticking to my guns would send him over the edge. I reluctantly agreed to stay, but this decision one would ultimately change my life….

Having Acne is Hard for Anyone But as a Gay Man it’s So Much Worse

Two years ago, I got talking to a guy on a dating app. I was excited when he asked me for a drink and we got to the swanky restaurant, and sat down with our glasses of wine, only for him to point out the cluster of spots on my chin.

Acne can range from pesky to debilitating for anyone but there are additional issues within the gay community.

There is a lot of pressure for gay men to ‘look the part’. A 2012 study revealed that 48 per cent of gay males said they would sacrifice at least one year of their lives to attain the ‘perfect body’. A healthy head of hair, trim physique and clear complexion are three of the most sought-after attributes.

Despite my negative experience, I was persistent in visiting gay bars in London to build a network of friends, and felt more confident with my latest crop of spots disguised at least partly under a layer of concealer.

But more often than not the night would end with my confidence hitting rock bottom, and me feeling vulnerable and close to tears. More and more, I ended up completely avoiding the gay scene, instead choosing to go out with my circle of straight friends, where I felt more accepted in conventional settings.

Finding acceptance in the cis and hetero communities has been something of a contradiction. I grew up as the only gay kid in my year in a small home counties town, being teased for not wanting to play football with the lads. With acne as well, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Now, once again, I was being made to feel like an outsider when acceptance was everything I had craved – but not from the people you’d expect.

My friends had faces similar to mine, faces that showed their acne and scars without the mask of make-up.

Maybe, like many issues that affect minorities, acceptance of acne comes down to representation. Straight celebrities tend to dominate mainstream media, which gives likes of Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber not only a platform to speak about their acne, but a ready-made audience who will accept them no matter what.

Acne is yet to be discussed by gay celebrities and this filters down. Now more than ever, celebrity culture has a strong influence on how gay men want to appear and this has naturally led to acne becoming a taboo issue.

However, for young boys struggling with their sexuality, acceptance is vital. Lack of self-worth and belonging at a young age can build up insecurity over the years, leading to an unhealthy perception of what your body ‘should’ look like.

The consequences can be serious: a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) revealed that sexual minorities with acne could be at higher risk of developing mental health problems.

As the years have gone by, I feel much more comfortable not masking my acne before going to a gay bar, but there are still anxious moments when meeting new people or my partner’s friends in the community.

I’m fortunate to now be in a very loving relationship and recently engaged to my soulmate. Even though I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, my acne is still a daily chore to manage and social gatherings still hold a lot of anxiety.

The attitude toward acne in the gay community is far from changing. Publications targeted for the gay market – that have held a huge amount influence over the decades – could make a significant difference in normalising the idea of having a few spots. In addition, gay public figures could do more to become inclusive and separate themselves more from the ‘body ideal’ and embrace vulnerability. What’s the fear of doing this? 

There has been much talk over the years of women making a stand against public figures and publications for not portraying a realistic body image, but a similar movement also needs to be made in the gay community.

Acne is a condition that I did not choose and I cannot help but, if I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. It’s made me the person I am today: strong, independent and resilient.

Today, I feel proud to be a gay man. It’s come with many trials and tribulations, but my experience has led me to accept myself. I feel I can take on any challenge that comes my way and, although my relationship has played a big part in how I see myself, I can move forward without my appearance being at the forefront of my thinking.

Originally published here









San Francisco: a Cultural Hub Housing a Crippling Homeless Epidemic

Famed for its iconic landmarks from Alcatraz Island to the Golden Gate Bridge, its long-established LGBT and Asian American communities and the city’s cable cars dominating the steep, rolling hills, I was excited to explore the diverse and cosmopolitan vibes of San Francisco. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the staggering homeless population that became my plus one along the way of my solo trip.

I arrived at my hotel on Bush Street, a close walk to downtown’s Union Square, suffering with a serious bout of sleep deprivation and ended up collapsing on my bed scrapping any plans of finding a Franciscan fish restaurant and heading out to the lively bars crammed with locals and tourists celebrating the start of Mother’s Day weekend.

I slept right through until the next morning, and I was ready to start exploring the city. The historic architecture and picture perfect ‘Queen Anne’ houses were visible from my hotel room window. Quaint neighbourhoods and the downtown skyscrapers screamed innovation, ambition and drive; comprising the story of America’s most expensive city.

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As I began my quest to find a traditional American pancake breakfast, a smell so powerful was overriding the fresh air I was expecting from my first full day bright, sunny morning in California. Urine, flattened cardboard boxes and shit-stained sleeping bags decorated shop doorways and beggars occupied most of the street corners. I did notice some sleeping bags and even groups of tents during the taxi ride from the airport, but my ignorance put that down to my driver cutting through the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ to beat the infamous San Francisco traffic.

Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Tiffany & Co. are just some of the high-end stores that surround Union Square; beggars with small children or dogs desperate for tourists to take pity and spare some change replace store greeters. The short walk to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) was a replica of my earlier breakfast journey, and the City Bus tour I took in the afternoon featured homeless people swigging from bottles, intimidating passers by and, just a stone’s throw away from City Hall, a man no older than 30 strapping a blue band around his right arm and injecting, what appeared to be, heroin.

To say my mind was blown is an understatement. I was used to seeing people sleeping rough on Oxford Street and the occasional one or two scrounging for spare change or a cigarette at Tottenham Hale station, but to travel across a majority of San Francisco and find this recurring theme in almost every district was a disturbing revelation.

Later on in my trip, I was invited to dinner by a guy I met at Mayes Oyster House along with his friends at a pizzeria in the Castro district. Most of evening was taken up by them asking questions on London life and, before I could even steer the conversation to my thoughts of San Francisco so far, one of the friends commented on the number of homeless people that were roaming the streets outside the restaurant. I initially hesitated to comment as I didn’t want to spoil the atmosphere of the evening. But when I mentioned how surprised I was to see so many people old and young sleeping rough, I was given a summarised rundown on the San Francisco homeless community.

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Despite the city spending
$275 million on homelessness and supportive housing in the 2016-2017 fiscal year (up from $241 million the year before) the most recent 78-page ‘Homeless Census’ revealed things are as bad as they’ve ever been. The total homeless population was calculated at 7,499: 41% claim to have a drug or alcohol addiction; 39% are dealing with mental health issues; and 11% are living with HIV or AIDS. As for the distribution of San Francisco’s homeless population, 3,680 people currently live on the streets of District Sixincluding a majority of SoMa and the Tenderloin which grapples with the highest homeless population.

The San Francisco Travel Association’s (STFA) CEO, Joe D’Alessandro, has placed partial responsibility at the city’s homeless crisis for narrowly missing their 2017 prediction of 25.6 million tourists visiting the city; its annual report found 25.5 million visited last year and, aside from a possible downfall in America’s reputation since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, D’Alessandro told CBS San Francisco earlier this year: “They [Tourists] wonder why does one of the wealthiest cities in one of the wealthiest states have streets that look like this? Why are there people living on the streets in these conditions? And it’s not acceptable honestly. And we’re failing as a society for not addressing this.”

Extortionate rent prices are also a main contributor to the homeless crisis. The cost of housing has greatly exceeded the amount of income that people earn working minimum-wage or acquire from disability support, pensions or other benefit plans. To put this into perspective, the average one-bedroom apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area is much more expensive than it is in the New York City metro area, and apartments in San Francisco are listed at a higher price than those in Manhattan. According to Expatistan, the average monthly cost for a 900 Sq/Ft apartment in a ‘normal’ area in San Francisco will set you back $3,576; whereas the same size apartment in New York City is listed at $2,805 (except from transport, costs for food, clothing, personal care and entertainment are also considerably higher than in NYC).

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Although study after study has concluded with troubling statistics, the city announced last month it will spend $305 million in the next fiscal year out of its approximate $10 billion annual budget in its long-lasting attempt at combatting the growing issue. The additional amount will help to finance Homeward Bound an initiative that reunites individuals with friends and family members (serving nearly 900 people last year) in addition to expanding shelter capacity and providing 200 housing units for former homeless residents in affordable housing buildings, as well as a hotel in the SoMa district.

Mayor Mark Farrell said: “San Francisco’s homeless problem has become a crisis, and as Mayor I have been committed to tackle the issue head on. These investments focus on programs and policies that have been proven to work, and will make a difference on the streets of San Francisco. Our residents deserve it.”

The increased budget has been welcomed by Jeff Kositsky, director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), stating the proposal will add “significant resources” to San Francisco’s Homelessness Response System: “To be successful in our efforts to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time we have to invest in proven programs that help prevent and end homelessness. The proposed budget will help us reduce the number of people who are becoming homeless and in need of emergency services while also investing in proven solutions like permanent supportive housing and navigation centers. This budget reflects the priorities outlined in HSH’s strategic framework and moves us closer to our goal of reducing homelessness in San Francisco.”

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It seems a lot of hope is riding on this proposal. From my brief experience walking the city’s streets and listening to the anguish of locals, I have to say San Francisco has a vigorous journey ahead in order to make some positive change. Human feces, dirty needles, the tent cities that continue to pop up around the city, and homeless people with mental and alcohol or drug-related problems ranting at passersby are scaring the tourists away. But, as former mayor Ed Lee said, “there is no silver bullet” solution.

8 Key Characteristics to Look for in Graduate Recruiters

It’s that time of year where a new class of graduates will be hitting the job boards in search of their first stepping stone into the world of work. But, in this day and age, it isn’t easy for a graduate to land a job straight after graduation.

The job market is fierce with tough competition and hundreds of candidates all going for the same position (not to mention it’s virtually impossible to secure a career in a chosen field of study).

That’s why many become attracted to the abundance of graduate recruitment consultant roles filling up the job boards; a majority promising in excess of up to £30-35K in the first year with all-expenses-paid trips to Ibiza or Las Vegas, lunch clubs to Michelin star London restaurants, and incentive prizes such as iPads and Rolex watches.

You’re inundated with new CVs everyday: some holding a glimmer of hope, others failing to hit the mark. You have consultant roles to fill and a tight deadline to fill them by, but don’t forget about the personality traits in what makes a great recruitment consultant. We’ve come up with eight key characteristics below to help you through the interview process…..

  1. Money-motivated with financial goals?

    It’s good to ask candidates about any short and long-term financial goals they may have—a deposit on a flat, a family trip of a lifetime to Florida, a dream wedding in the Surrey countryside: it’s a crucial part of the interview process as this will determine their level of self-motivation and aspirations to succeed.
  2. Able to communicate over the phone?

    Granted, it’s difficult to determine what candidates are like selling over the phone, don’t be afraid to incorporate some practical tasks in the interview process. Admittedly, it takes time out of your day, but you’ll be thankful later on—you don’t want to babysit someone who doesn’t know how to hold a conversation with key stakeholders.
  3. Have what it takes to be a top sales leader?

    You want a recruiter that’s a natural born leader; someone who strives to win, takes risks, promises results and isn’t afraid to show others how it’s done. Think of some scenarios you can incorporate into the interviews and get their responses. Furthermore, why not ask for examples on how they’ve exceeded expectations, and how they went about doing it?
  4. Resilient with a thick-skinned mentality?

    Recruitment isn’t all incentive prizes and trips abroad; it’s a tough industry with plenty of rejection to go with it, and candidates need to know this from the get go. Don’t shy away from saying exactly how it’s going to be day-to-day—it saves them (and you, too) from having to deal with a culture shock on their first day. Place much emphasis on the long hours, tough targets, next to no lunch breaks and having to wait around after 5pm to call candidates after the working day.
  5. Thinks outside the box?

    Conventional ways of doing things can certainly bring the results you need, but stepping outside the general comfort zone of searching through LinkedIn profiles shows a candidate is forward-thinking and can take ownership. Ask for some examples on how they managed to think outside the box and the results they achieved by doing this.
  6. Determined and ferocious?

    What makes them self-motivated enough to jump straight on the phones in the morning? An excellent recruitment consultant needs a determined work ethic to get anywhere in the industry. Sometimes it’s just not enough to hit the targets; you need to go above and beyond to really reap the benefits.
  7. Happy to research their sector?

    There’s nothing worse than a recruitment consultant that doesn’t know anything about the sector they’re working in. Knowledge gets you a long way, and you want new recruiters to carve out the time in researching the top influential companies and their managing directors. Maybe discuss their dissertations, the research methods they adopted, and how they could incorporate this into sales leads.
  8. Organised and able to multi-task?

    Finally, a consultant manages a number of accounts as part of the day-to-day tasks. Organisation and carving out enough time for each one is paramount. Candidates that can keep on top of daily to do lists and are able to work well under pressure will get a good head start. Think of some scenarios to mention in the interviews, and get their responses in how they would cope with managing multiple projects at one time.