What’s wrong with the UK?

Newspaper headline: No shirt, no pants, no worries.

The relaxed Australian lifestyle is a big attraction.

After 10 years in Denmark, our decision to move to Australia has some of its roots in wanting to feel closer to the place where we live – culturally, linguistically, socially and professionally. So the obvious question is: why not move back to the UK? After all, it still offers many of the things that are on our list of ‘things to look forward to’.

On the face of it, it’s not a bad idea. But the attraction is purely superficial. Yes, we do miss pub lunches, the ritual of Saturday afternoon football, being within easy reach of our roots and relatives, and hundreds of other things besides. But the many reasons that led us to leave the UK are still valid too, and have been added to by other new ones.

Property prices
Even if we wanted to return to the UK, I’m not sure that we could afford to. In the 10 years we’ve been in Denmark, property prices here have plummeted, to the extent that we are selling our house for nearly 20% less than we paid for it when we arrived in 2005 – as it turns out, at the height of a Danish property price bubble.

Compare that with what UK house prices have done over the same period – one survey suggests price rises of around 25% – and you’ll see that moving back to the UK would mean a huge step backwards in the type of home we could afford. Because of the way schooling works in Britain, this in turn, would affect which schools our kids could get into.

By contrast, in Australia, we see the opportunity to have nice home, potentially even mortgage-free, with access to great schools and a growing economy.

Future prospects
Of course, house prices aren’t running out of control everywhere in the UK. Outside London and the south-east of England, there are still some very affordable, great places to live. But what about the job prospects in those areas?

The last time we entertained the idea of moving back, a few years ago, we looked at East Anglia as a potential place to live. What we found was that, unless you were willing to commute into London, salaries for local jobs were not far off the minimum wage. It’s no secret that this has created a two-tiered society, where people have to choose between long-distance commuting, or poorly paid jobs in service industries or the cash-strapped local public sector.

We’re very aware of what that might mean for our children. I spoke in a previous post about the UK being a nation that dwells on its past, while Australia seems a nation that is focused on the future. I see no greater evidence of this than the prospect for both nations’ children.

I’m going to confess to this one because, while it’s not a big factor in our decision making, it’s certainly a factor.

I love the fact that we’ve come on an adventure to live abroad. It’s been exciting, frightening, disorientating and rewarding all at once. And I’ve come to realise that I quite like the exoticism of it. I like it when I meet a stranger at a party and ask where they live, and they say something like: “Stevenage. How about you?” and I get to say: “Oh, just outside Copenhagen.” And I love the fact that I now get to add: “But in a few months, we’ll be moving to Australia.”

Is that vanity? Probably, but it’s also a reaffirmation that I’m living exactly the life that I wanted to live, all those years ago when things weren’t going so well; when I couldn’t see a way out of where I grew up; when I couldn’t see a path to the life that I dreamt of.

When it came down to it, and my wife and I talked about whether our time in Denmark was coming to an end, and where we should think about moving to next, before we got into detailed discussions, we absolutely agreed on one thing – that Denmark has been a marvellous adventure for us, and we don’t want the adventure to end yet.

So, in a way, going back to the UK would feel like giving up on our adventure; settling for all those things that drove us crazy when we lived there; becoming the people we were before we left. And neither of us is willing to do that.

The final consideration, and perhaps the most rational, is the question of what our own quality of life will be like for our remaining years in employment, and then in retirement.

This could easily change a lot over the next 20 or 30 years, indeed, as I’ll discuss in a future post, there is a very strong argument to suggest that Australia is lurching to the right, politically, with wide-ranging ramifications for the types of things that we take for granted in predominantly left-leaning Scandinavia – but I’ll come back to that another day.

Every happiness indicator, work-life balance survey and any other piece of data you care you mention favours Australia over the UK every time. In general, it offers a comparable work-life balance and cost of living to Denmark, and in our time here, we’ve truly come to appreciate the difference between living to work and working to live.

And when it comes to a choice like that, as those great philosophers Wham once said: “Choose life.”

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