Low-cost living beckons
Taking living and housing costs into account, the cheapest areas in the UK are Northern Ireland, Wales, the North of England (Cumbria and Northumberland) and the East Midlands. Because of their national pay scale, teachers are in an excellent position to take advantage of the large regional variations in the cost of living. Apart from London Weighting, which does not cover the extra expense of living in the capital, teachers throughout the UK are paid at the same rates.
The biggest savings, inevitably, come in lower house prices. When Angie Latimer, a nursery teacher, moved from London to Swansea, she and her husband were able to swap their two-bedroomed flat for a three-bedroomed house with a view of the Gower peninsula and a large garden, and pay off their mortgage.
A semi in Swansea will set you back about Pounds 43,000, compared with around Pounds 133,250 in central London. But the Latimers discoved other benefits, too. "Entertainment is much cheaper," Mrs Latimer explains. "Meals out and theatre tickets are very reasonable and you can still get a pint here for Pounds 1.40."
Childminding costs are lower and there are free nursery places from the age of three. On the downside, public transport is not as good as in London, so the Latimers now have to run a car to get to work. And Mrs Latimer finds that clothes are more expensive as there is less choice. Finances aside, the huge improvement in their quality of life has been the biggest advantage for the Latimer family.
"Last summer we pitched a tent on the Gower and spent all our nights and weekends there," she says. "From our house, it's only 10 minutes' drive into the city centre, and only 10 minutes from the coast." The Latimers also believe it is safe enough for seven-year-old Huw to walk to the local park on his own.
The couple admit to having suffered a dose of culture shock after they first moved. "There is far less cultural diversity than in London, and people can be rather narrow-minded," Mrs Latimer admits. For her, the main disadvantage is that it's more difficult to get promotion - there can be up to 150 applications for each teaching post. "You have to come to terms with your thwarted ambition, but when the summer comes, it makes up for everything," she says.
Moving even a relatively short distance can save you money, as primary teacher Annie Judge found when she left Sheffield for Nottingham. She and her family now live in West Bridgford, a leafy suburb 10 minutes' drive from the city centre, in a Victorian house with a large garden. House prices are cheaper than in Sheffield; the average price for a Nottingham semi is Pounds 43,550, compared with Pounds 48,100 in Sheffield - Pounds 80,000 would buy you a detached four-bedroomed house with a good-sized garden in Beeston, a pleasant suburb within walking distance of Nottingham University.
Terraced houses in Eastwood, DH Lawrence's birthplace, still go for around Pounds 25,000. "There's quite a choice of housing and the parks make the city surprisingly green," Mrs Judge says. A local estate agent comments: "People relocating are amazed at the value and variety you get."
Mrs Judge also finds fruit and vegetables cheaper as she uses one of Nottingham's excellent local markets. Clothes are good value as there are many independent retailers left in the city centre, as well as an indoor market selling cut-price clothing.
Sports and entertainment cost less than in Sheffield and are well below the average national price. And there is plenty to choose from: Nottingham boasts two theatres, two concert halls and excellent sports facilities, including a water-sports centre at Holme Pierrepont. "It's a nice place to bring up a family," says Mrs Judge, who has three children aged 13, 11 and 8.
Northern Ireland is now attracting considerable attention from mainland teachers interested in relocating, according to Tom McKee, who represents the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in the region. While food costs are higher than in other areas, and transport costs are the highest in the UK, these expenses are heavily outweighed by the extremely low house prices.
A modern three-bedroomed semi just outside Larne, the port town 25 miles from the centre of Belfast, costs upwards of Pounds 38,000, while a four-bedroomed detached house with sea views on an up-market development sells at around Pounds 80,000. You can get a substantial Victorian terraced house in the town for Pounds 45-49,000. The vast differences in the cost of living have been highlighted by the reaction to the teachers' pay award this year, says Mr McKee. "Teachers on the mainland thought it was derisory, but in Northern Ireland, it's considered a good award," he says.
Average weekly earnings in Northern Ireland are Pounds 60 below those on the mainland, so teachers think themselves well-paid. As Northern Ireland replicates the curriculum and examinations system of the mainland, Mr McKee doesn't think it would be too difficult for teachers from other parts of the UK to make the transition. The only snag is that Northern Irish education authorities do not advertise in The TES, so would-be emigres would have to buy the Northern Irish newspapers.
But some teachers could economise without moving hundreds of miles. Relocating from a D band property in Hackney to something similar in Wandsworth, for instance, could save you Pounds 424 a year in council tax. While the national average for a band D home is Pounds 647, the rate in some cities is far higher, including Bristol, which is charging Pounds 871 for a Band D property, Manchester, at Pounds 838, and top-of-the-league Liverpool at Pounds 1, 006.
* Sources: Reward, Cost of Living Report; Halifax Building Society, Halifax Property Services, Larne, Bairstow Eves, Nottingham.
Required annual income in 14 UK areas
This shows the gross income required to maintain the standard of living of a family of four living in a three-bedroomed semi bought on a 68 per cent mortgage. It includes water rates, council tax, 78 meals out, 1120cc car, telephone, coal and electricity for heating.
East Anglia 18,414 East Midlands 17,546 Greater London 23,099 London commuters 23,748 Northern Ireland 16,667 North 17,261 North West 19,007 Scotland 19,588 South East 19,681 S.East and Gt. London 21,344 South West 19,158 Wales 17,589 West Midlands 18,504 YorksHumberside 18,281 Average 19,238.
Figures: Cost of Living Report, Regional Comparisons March 1996 by Reward, Tel; 01785 813566. Fax: 01785 817007.
Semi-detached houses the 10 cheapest counties, fourth quarter, 1995? Average price Pounds
Mid Glamorgan 43,088 Derbyshire 42,931 County Down 42,902 West Glamorgan 42,692 Nottinghamshire 41,806 Clwyd 41,699 South Humberside 41,150 County Durham 40,980 Lincolnshire 40,923 Dyfed 37,853 Source: Halifax Building Society.