Finding my faith

What does it mean to practice faith as a student? Altaf Kazi, a 24 year old Muslim studying MSc Publ

Over the summer before I started my Masters, I had decided to make some changes in my life. I had decided to make an effort to get closer to my religion. What inspired me? The realization of knowing that I needed to be closer to my Creator before I returned to Him. I thanked Allah for the fact that I had found my faith. Never before had I felt more at ease and comfort. However the changes I had made so far had been in the confines of my house.
And so I started my first day of University thinking to myself if my experience be different from my times at Birmingham as an undergraduate? Would people recognize me and what would they think? For now I was wearing a white robe and had a beard growing. I knew that for my mid afternoon prayer, lunch and just walking around campus, I would have to confront this and have those awkward conversations with people.
My first major test came on my first day when I had to go to the prayer room. I can remember it quite vividly. As I reached the prayer room, I saw many smiling faces leave the prayer room which put me at ease. I had already preformed my pre prayer ablution in the gents' toilet downstairs only to realize that the prayer room has a ablution facility provided! I thought argh! I didn’t have to struggle in the sink!  But that was my first day, and I blame my nervousness and lack of confidence to ask others. So I lined up in prayer, but before it started I knew that trying to practice my religion at University wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought.
I thank Allah that after that first day my fears have been put aside. Through the Islamic Society I got to meet a lot of like-minded people. The people I met shared their experiences and I drew strength from their confidence. It's true that being alone is better than bad company and being in good company is better then being alone. This is something that I experienced. Being a part of the Islamic Society meant that I could feel comfortable discussing issues that faced young Muslims such as how bad the weather was, how we wanted a pizza from Broadway 2 or Pizza Haq; we also discussed other issues like identity and the world and how it is today.  
My experiences of the role of faith as a student has led me to strongly believe that only a shallow person judges a person on appearance; a wise person waits for him to speak and watches his actions. My experiences in University and more importantly with my Creator have enabled me to be the strong and more confident person that I now am. I have met many talented Muslims and non Muslims and had many conversations with them. I feel confident about the future of this country in knowing that people understand the role that faith can play in life and how they should not simply tolerate it but accept it for the value that others hold.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.