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Terry Prone: Bewilderment deepens with the rise of the new poor ...

What today's figures establish is that the middle class dream has imploded and the coping classes have been pushed beyond their capacity to cope.

Not that anybody ever talked much about the middle class dream. It was the norm, rather than a florid fantasy. It involved normal stuff. Like one holiday a year. Like owning your own home. Like owning your own car and having VHI. For many couples, it went no further than that. They didn't want to send their kids to fee-paying schools and they had no ambition to own property in Bulgaria.

They just wanted to feel secure. That's the sad part. The people who have been hit so hard by the economic meltdown were not indulging themselves. They didn't buy penthouse apartments or Ferraris. They found it difficult enough to buy an ordinary home and a Toyota Camry, but they knew putting down roots and staying mobile was more important than display.

They knew what they could handle, in terms of repayment, and although they didn't "live within their means" to the extent their parents would have hoped they kept their debt under control. Although when the credit card supplier sent them an invitation to increase their limit they didn't turn it down, because a bit of them felt kind of flattered.

So when the stuff about Lehman Brothers appeared in the papers, followed by news about Irish bankers playing games with millions (putting it in one account today and shifting it into another tomorrow) they shrugged: that was fantasy stuff, as far as they were concerned. Nothing to do with the realities of their lives.

Then, over the following months, the difficulties got up close and very personal. Undeserved, but personal nonetheless. The house they had been thrilled to get a mortgage on suddenly lost value. They still had to pay the same amount. The bank had lent them X amount and X amount was what they were going to have to pay. Never mind that one of them suddenly lost their job. Never mind that the other was persuaded to take a 20pc pay cut.

For several months, they were like walking wounded. People forced to play a role in a weird play that might, with luck, have the curtain run down pretty quick, allowing all of us to get back to reality. The problem is, no matter where we look, nobody seems able to bring down the curtain on this nightmare. Everybody accepted -- because we had no choice -- that billions should be pumped into Anglo. Now we're told billions more will have to be pumped into that disaster area. We can't figure how it could have got worse, and we can't understand how the experts now employed by the state to run Anglo can't get their numbers straight.

Older people look at having to give up paying for VHI with fear and shame. Private health insurance wasn't a luxury. It was an expensive way to ensure you didn't get treated like muck and you'd get treated within a reasonable time.

Younger couples look at the four walls that imprison them, knowing their home has them by the short and curlies, but it's not big enough to start a family in -- and yet the chances of moving are tiny.

Because they're middle class, they keep thinking, "There must be a way out of this."

Because they're the new poor, they know there isn't one.


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