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The renting dilemma

A man’s right to work as he will to spend what he earns to own property to have the State as servant and not as master these are the British inheritance.

It’s quite a sea change but it reflects the realities we now find ourselves living with. The reality that hundreds of thousands of young people fear that they will never be able to afford to buy a property. Not only are there too few of them, but those there are, are priced beyond the reach of someone – even a couple – on an ‘average wage.

The Government has recognised this – though it would probably argue that it did so some time ago and has been bringing in measure after measure to try and sort it out.

The Housing White Paper though, delivered this morning by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, takes the Tory Party a step away from their aims to fix ‘broken’ housing market

However, the sea change, is that the Tory Party is talking nit just about encouraging the environment in which houses can be built to be sold on to Thatcher’s home owning democracy but also built to be rented. It’s an admission – even if it isn’t explicitly stated that, for some, the dream of owning their own home will remain just that.

The proportion of people living in private rented accommodation has more than doubled since 2000. The average couple living in the private rental sector now hands over just over half of their joint income on rent.

There are plenty of stats to show us that the same could be said for mortgage payments but that is different.

In my twenties, I scoffed at those who told me “Renting is dead money. You need to buy somewhere” because to me, then, renting was about paying for a roof over my head, in a town I wanted to live in, close to the job I was doing, allowing me to share with friends in exactly the same boat. I was probably right to scoff, that being the mid-eighties, however there are plenty who rightly see it as paying off someone else’s mortgage, whilst their chances of saving enough to scrape a deposit evaporate.

There are people out there desperate to be able to put down roots, to have somewhere that they can call their own, a house that they know they could be in for year, in a community they want to become a part of. Somewhere they can put Star Wars wallpaper up in their son’s bedroom without upsetting the landlord and risking their deposit or having the place sold out from under their feet.

If this sounds over-dramatic, it’s not really. A friend of mine hosts a radio phone-in show on our local radio station. This morning the topic was “Have you given up the hope of owning your own home?”

So many of the people featured felt that they were stuck in the limbo of renting – often not very nice properties, either because that’s all they could afford or find or because they don’t want to complain to the landlord in case they got turfed out for being troublemakers.

One caller is planning on living six months of the year in a caravan in order to save money for a deposit for a house, even though it might take two or three years, minimum. She and her husband were in their early thirties.

I’m paraphrasing another caller here, but you get the gist: “We have nothing left moneywise once the rent and bills are paid. The house we’re in is old and draughty and costs a huge amount in gas and electricity as a result. We can’t even dream about having anything to save. Living like this is stressful, it makes people ill and causes them to take time off work. It’s not good for anyone.”

House-prices – and rental prices – are certainly higher in my neck of the woods than elsewhere, but this is not just a south-east problem by a long stretch.

I don’t know what the solution is and I’m not sure the Government does – White Paper or no White Paper

However, if we’re going to continue to peddle the dream of a home-owning democracy, shouldn’t we at least make sure that the dream is achievable, not for all maybe, but for many.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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