High house prices are putting off couples from having children

Shelter research shows 63 per cent more families are feeling the squeeze.

It’s a sad reality that in Britain we get used to putting up with the impact that the high cost of housing has on our lives. We accept having to spend an hour getting to and from work every day as we can’t afford to live any closer to our jobs. We think of the family homes we grew up in with nostalgia rather than aspiration, accepting we are unlikely to live anywhere similar. We pay half our salaries to keep up with our rent or mortgage, leaving little over for the rest of our lives.

However this week another impact has come to light that has serious implications for both individual families and for society as a whole. New research we have carried out at Shelter has identified a staggering 63 per cent increase in the number of people putting off having children because of the lack of affordable housing. Over a million people are delaying having a family because of housing costs. And we’re not just talking for a few months – one in four of those delaying said they have been doing so for more than five years.

Being in my mid-thirties, this is a picture I can identify with. I have seen numerous friends wanting to start families but unwilling to do so until they can buy their own home, not seeing their rented flat as a suitable place to raise a child. Others have had to move away from their families to be able to buy a home and start a family, having to give up the support networks and childcare options that are so important for young families. Some have had one child and stopped there, not out of choice but because they couldn’t afford to live anywhere that could accommodate more children.

And these are all people who work hard, who save, who do everything they can but who still can’t achieve the security and stability that was a given for previous generations.

So what can be done?

Clearly the high cost of owning your own home is not going to change overnight. So the million families renting (a number which has almost doubled in the past five years) need to ensure a rented place can feel like a suitable home to start and raise a family in. Landlords can evict them or raise the rent at any time. When you have children to consider, particularly if they are school age, for many this is just not a workable option.

Longer term we need action to bring down the cost of buying a home. Decades of underinvestment have left the supply and demand for affordable homes completely out of kilter. Earlier this month we saw levels of housebuilding fall yet again, down almost a quarter over the past year. When people’s lives are being put on hold in this way, this is simply not sustainable. We must see more homes being built that families across the country can afford so we can put a halt to this deeply concerning trend.

Children gaze down the stairwell of a 1950s slum; but poor family housing isn't consigned to history. Photograph: Getty Images

Anna is the head of press at Shelter.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit