‘I quit high pay in London, but I’m much happier in Newcastle’

Name: Lewis Roberts
Age: 34
Income: £34,000
Occupation: Social worker

Five years ago I decided to change careers and become a social worker. I’d been working in healthcare regulation and I felt quite disconnected from the job. Something about social work appealed to me. I’d always been politically active and I wanted to tackle social justice issues.

At the time, my wife and I had been living in London for five years. London wasn’t for us long term. We’d been thinking about getting on the housing ladder and we could possibly have scraped a deposit together for a house but life in London just didn’t seem sustainable.

We didn’t want to get on the tube every day if we were going to start a family. Also, I planned to do a master’s and I knew money was going to be tight. We decided to move to Newcastle, where I was born and later went to university.

We’ve been here for five years now and we love it. There’s a vibrant arts and music scene and it’s close to amazing places like the Northumberland coastline.

I earn about £34,000 – probably half of what I would be on if I stayed in London and climbed the ladder. However, I have colleagues on £28,000 who really struggle to make ends meet. In social work you can work really long hours, often drive long distances, spend your own money supporting children and families, and cash flow can be really tight. My role involves helping complex young people move into specialist foster homes. Once they have moved in, it’s my job to make sure they’re safe and getting the support they need.

I’d say we’re fairly comfortable financially. We live in a four-bedroom Victorian terraced house in Heaton. We have a 20-year mortgage, which costs us £1,100 every month. Our council tax comes to £150 a month and then other bills come to a few hundred. We spend about £60 a week on groceries.

One of our big expenditures has been a 1980s camper van. We bought it for £3,500 then spent an additional £4,000 paying a specialist mechanic to sort it out. Its upkeep is quite expensive; road tax is about £25 a month, insurance is about £400 a year, while the miles per gallon on it are terrible. But we go on lots of day trips to the Northumberland coast. My little boy, who is three, loves it.

Our other big expense is childcare. Although we do receive 30 hours free a month, additional top-up nursery fees come to about £280 a month.

When it comes to holidays we usually spend £1,000 on accommodation and flights and try to pull this from our salaries if we can and leave our savings alone.

My finances were tight throughout university and the transition to working life was financially challenging. I got myself in debt and it was only when I met my wife that I managed to get on top of it. My wife is really good with money and moving to the north-east has helped me to save and develop my financial management skills.

Now I’m quite good at making money go a long way. I put £200 into an Isa every month. Through my work, I’ve started paying into a pension. I’m still paying off my student loan, though; I have about £8,000 left.

Being a career changer is tough. My wife and friends are on a certain trajectory and starting again is difficult. It’s a humbling experience. I’m just starting to find my feet. But after four years of really challenging work, I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my career.


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