I used to have a savings account choc full of money with an ex. When we split up I was so desperate to escape him I didn’t even fight over the money in that account. I will never regret it- he was, and I don’t use this term lightly, evil.
Successful, single at 34, I’ve watched property prices explode out of reach again and again as my savings went from just enough to never enough. My hands are caked with the soil that covers my hopes of affording property, perhaps until I marry another man or my media career somehow ignites and I can supplement my income.
Is it my desperate need for chai latte, my selfish need to live in a nice flat or my lazy refusal to take on a third/fourth job that means I can’t own property… or are we just being screwed by people who don’t live the life of the average Brit, but know how to convince the average Brit that their strife is their own fault, or the fault of some illusory shibboleth?
I woke up to a text this week. It was just a link to an app that helps you save money for a mortgage- it’s name was so ridiculous I’d never have considered using it anyway- but the message rankled me nonetheless. It felt like the sender was implying that my lack of home-ownership was due to my laziness, lack of effort or some other jibe. I thanked them and closed the conversation- I couldn’t be bothered to be drawn into another defensive delineation: “I saved money in my old job because my salary was good. I saved money again recently because I have not only two jobs but I freelance as a journalist”.
There’s many things you can say about people like me when we tell you we don’t own property. Idealistic? Sure. Scatterbrained? Absolutely. Lazy? I wish.
There seems to be an enduring belief by the British public at large that owning property is a salve for all of the monetary issues we face. I refuse to buy into the endless recitation of the “avocado toast and latte” nonsense: even if I bought one coffee a day at £3, that’s £90 a month: that, hardly a mortgage does make. We foster a culture of “pay into the economy to make it strong”- so deeply pushed during the pandemic that the eat out to help out scheme may have contributed to thousands of avoidable coronavirus deaths- ironically, despite that, our economy is still on ventilation and atonal breathing. But think how contradictory those messages are: “don’t spend, save for a mortgage- but also go out and spend for the precious economy” and yet those messages coexist in some sort of peaceful harmony in the heads of many people, the irony somehow missed.
The problem isn’t saving up or lack thereof (I did, though not so right now), our problem isn’t our proclivity for purchasing hot drinks- the problem is that we exist in a system that has continually failed to provide for the next generation, whilst shoring up the assets of those who built and maintained it.
Studies show that in London in particular, by 2030- 7.5 years away- the average property price in London will reach a million pounds- someone who bought a London property for the average, £130,000, in 2000 will have seen an increase in their property price of £870,000…
London is, however, its own mini entity within the UK and its property prices are an aberration – but the phenomenon around the property price increases is not.
In the 70s, the average house price was approximately four times the average yearly salary. Now in most areas, the average house price is nearing eight times that. Bear in mind that is the AVERAGE. The average salary in the UK? 31,000. Guess what I, with my 2 jobs and freelancing earn? And another cherry on the cake: because I can’t use my rental receipts as proof I pay nearly £900 a month and because my rent, council tax, electricity etc have all gone up in price, not only have my savings stagnated, they have started a slow decline- and I can’t prove legally that I can pay a mortgage of £650 a month…
My rent, when I moved into the flat I live in was £850- I’d previously been living in a very very small, moth infested flat which only cost me £550 a month: bear in mind though that when my dad saw how small my old flat was, where I lived for a year during the worst of covid- he actually got upset for me.
Moving here was costly but was a reward for getting through a year of total isolation due to covid, in a hot, tiny flat crawling (sometimes literally) with insects that I couldn’t find the source of. I had to move somewhere else and at the time I was doing a job that paid enough.
Why not move somewhere nice, I thought- I could always make more money… my mental health had been crushed by living in that dank little flat. So here I am, and for 12 months I dutifully paid my rent on time every month with no complaints: I chose to move here, I can hardly quibble about the rent price, and because I can be quite frugal often I managed to keep making savings. Can you see the storm clouds yet?
A mere nine days after the papers began to speak in earnest about the cost of living crisis, I went downstairs to get my mail to find a letter from my landlord.
The letter thanked me for living here but said that now the pandemic was over, so was the rent freeze- they planned to increase my rent by £24.
I emailed my landlord, pointing out how hilarious it was that they chose the beginning of a cost of living crisis to increase rent and asked whether they felt any remorse: they said that they had to “cover their own costs”. Two days later I went on a trip to London to the Byline festival and as I left my flat to get the train down, I found a fully dressed man unconscious in the corridor, sleeping outside one of my hall mates doors- I took a photo, sent it to the landlord and asked them if the rent increase was to pay for rehab.
But lets do some maths: there are approximately 110 flats in my building, the adjacent and opposite ones and the square next door- all owned by the same company. so that’s 880 flats, and I assume the smaller flats rent went up by less and the larger flats went up by more- but for simplicity, lets say that we all had our rent increased by £24:
24x 880= £21,120
My landlord, with the printing of 880 letter, increased their profits- just from increasing the rent- by over £21,000
At the same time as my rent increased, we started seeing the huge bump in energy prices. My energy has also gone up by £41 a month. My council tax is up £20. My food bills have escalated insanely because goods simply cost more to buy now. Everything is more expensive.
Now let’s talk about salary stagnation!
Everywhere you look at the moment, everyone from rail workers of all job delineations to doctors are planning strikes because their salaries don’t cover their cost of living. Are these strikes annoying when you depend on the services provided? Absolutely! Which is why you should be backing those workers all the more: their labour allows you to live your life smoothly, and their labour isn’t paying them enough to live.
Mick Lynch has been a steadfast storyteller, the de-mythologist of the idea of the lazy strikers, and has explained over and over to somehow continually glib listeners that companies are maximising profits which only hit the pockets of a select few shareholders and CEOs whilst the company does not reinvest that money back into itself to the benefit of its users or the staff who run the businesses.
Wage stagnation is at it’s worst level in, drumroll please- TWO HUNDRED YEARS in the UK.
My favourite response to my talking about this is “why don’t you just move somewhere smaller?”
I looked at a flat further out of town which was smaller and cost £660 a month last Monday.
It was on the market for 4 hours and 30 minutes before it was taken by someone else.
When I asked to view one of the studio flats in my block, the man literally laughed and said “I’d just take it mate, property’s going quick right now”- they wanted me to move into a smaller flat that I’d never seen. Welcome to renting in 2022!
The sad fact is that now, thanks to real terms pay cuts, pay stagnation, inflation, deregulation in the housing & property sector and the increase in goods prices due both to Brexit and covid sprinkled liberally with the awful governance from the unfathomably wealthy ex chancellor & final contender for grand high prick, Rishi Sunak, over ten percent of UK citizens survive on £18,000 a year or less which puts them at or under the poverty line.
Property ownership isn’t a distant dream- it doesn’t even register as thought when you can’t pay your rent and bills with your salary.
Tom Tugendhat, recently eliminated contender in the soulless despot of the year competition, stated that we needed to create more houses. To Mr Tugendhat, to Ms Truss, to Mr Sunak and indeed to those steady of ear in the other political parties, I’d like to introduce them to the idea that the issue isn’t simply creating more property- it’s the affordability of it.
I’d be happy to forego six months of hot drink purchases if it meant the end of my ever spiralling financial woes- but when those woes are caused by the increasingly flailing decisions of a ridiculous government, when your lack of property ownership as you march ever closer to 40 without home ownership is caused because property prices diverge ever further from salary, it’s nice to see those responsible not only helm solutions to the problems, but place the blame on their own shoulders and not yours.
The overarching point is that property ownership has been made almost impossible by the continually more vapid and short termist decisions of successive UK governments who have not only decimated the economy by making unfortunate decisions, but allowed landlords to lean heavier on the ‘lord’ part of their title whilst providing less and less of the land.
The master stroke as always is for the government to continue to point the finger at everyone but itself- it’s definitely the foreign gay trans people making property prices explode of course, not the people who have been in charge for hundreds of years- and if we only work harder, if we only forgo any pleasure besides the consumption of endless ramen packs in a dark, cold flat wearing threadbare clothes we’ve owned for 7 years, perhaps we can afford a matchbox for one in the next 5 years.
We would all, I’m sure, be happy to invest in the economy by purchasing a house, furniture and more- but until everything else stops paring back our finances and gnawing at the bones beneath we will be stuck in a cycle of saving, then checking the market only to see that extra £2.5k that we saved didn’t keep up with the rise in property prices- back to the drawing board again eh.
We’ll have to forego the precious dream of owning our own pied à terre, at least until politicians in the UK can grapple with keeping down the price of a pomme de terre.