Housing the Citizenry

You are tenacious so-and-sos, you lot. I still get as many hits here at PRoM on a bad day as I get on a good day at my new gaff. A not inconsiderable factor is that this post about political apathy among the young appears to have spontaneously taken over Google, from whence people arrive after asking questions such as “why is there political apathy among the youth?” and “why are the young politically apathetic?” and “why is everything so utterly hopeless and what does Alix Mortimer think about it?” (I am paraphrasing here, you understand).

So I have a horrible feeling that my specious rattled-off opinions about political apathy are being regularly used up and down the land to shore up last-minute “Citizenship” homework – or even, for all I know, lesson plans – and this may yet stand as my lasting contribution to The Internet. If this is what influence feels like you may keep it.

Mind you, today someone asked “how can political apathy be stopped?” which seems at least to be a step in the right direction, though I fear answer came there none, at least from me.

Anyway, two of the reasons I proffered in that post that might explain the political apathy of the young (and indeed the not so young, hem hem) related to the cost of housing. I talked about money, and in particular I talked about renting:

I do not personally recall a single instance, either in the last two years of active political interest or the previous 28 of apathy, of a politician mentioning the “r” word. Private tenants simply do not exist in political discourse. They are so invisible that, whenever anyone uses the word “tenants”, it is taken as read that they mean social housing tenants (eg, the name of a new government quango for social housing tenants, which I momentarily and foolishly got excited about: it is called the National Tenant Voice). Private tenants in this country get a worse deal with legal protection and with typical contractual terms than tenants in other European countries. I don’t know a great deal about the issues and I’m sure there aren’t instant and obvious answers. I’m just struck by the way no discussion is ever aired at all.

Mention first time buyers to politicians on the other hand, and they’ll jump like scalded cats. It’s ridiculous. No party has been able to come up with a real solution for all first time buyers “struggling to get on the property ladder” for a very good and simple reason: prices are too high and Generation X is sitting on all the money. We all know this. And no government is ever going to actively cause prices to fall even if they could. Given the Sisyphean impossibility of solving this problem by buying everybody a house (which has been the approach taken by Labour), I am genuinely puzzled as to why politicians don’t go for the lower-hanging fruit: consider the young’s actual lives as tenants instead of their aspirational lives as homeowners. Stop calling them first time buyers because they ain’t buying anything, and start calling them what they are.

(The comments point out that I was incorrect to cite only Generation X and not the babyboomers – see what I mean about specious rattled-off opinions?)

That was written four years ago, and the landscape has, with tectonic sloth, shifted a little since then. You can indeed read about the trials and mounting costs of renting as a private tenant in the mainstream press (quite probably because increasing proportions of the media is staffed by people who don’t have the option to buy). No longer is everyone under 35 represented in the Property pages by smiley pictures of Ben and Lisa simply pink with joy to be sitting on a faux-leather sofa in their very own Barrett cell after clearing the trifling hurdle of selling their kidneys to the international banking system. So that’s something.

But some things are reassuringly eternal, and The Government is still trying to solve the problem by buying everybody a house.

So the reason I attach the electrodes to this blog today is that I have just had an email round from Priced Out, who are preparing to step up pressure on the parties ahead of 2015 and to that end are searching for pieces of hay in a haystack and, well, I want to see them succeed:

PricedOut is the only campaign that represents first-time buyers and we need your help to ensure politicians give us something to vote for.

First, Channel 4 News would like to speak to thirtysomethings living in flatshares, and adults living with their parents because rent is too high. If you or anyone you know would like to find out more, please email press@pricedout.org.uk, as soon as possible.

If you fall into those categories and fancy complaining about your so-called life to Cathy Newman, you should email them.

I do still have quibbles with some of Priced Out’s language. “First time buyers” is a much less inclusive constituency than “private tenants” and only fuels the general idea that buying at all costs is the ultimate dream, which is partly what has got us where we are. But the more air time the reality of the housing crisis gets the better as far as I’m concerned.



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