Shared ownership doesn't help most young people onto the housing market

You need to be pretty lucky to make the most of it.

Bad news, fellow young people hoping to own a house: "shared ownership" is kinda crummy.

The dream behind shared ownership is that you, penniless young person who might just be able to save a deposit by 2050 assuming you don't do anything silly like have a social life or go on holiday, only buy part of the property, usually around a quarter or a third. That partial purchase reduces the amount of cash you have to stump up for a deposit, and you then split your monthly outgoings between paying rent on the three quarters you don't own, and paying down the mortgage on the quarter you do own.

If (hopefully, when) you pay off the mortgage on the first chunk of the house, you can increase your share, and start the whole thing again. Eventually, you own the whole house. Congratulations!

Except it doesn't tend to work as well as that, as the Guardian's Liam Kelly reports:

As Giles Peaker, editor of the Nearly Legal housing law blog, wrote on the Guardian Housing Network this week, there is no such thing as shared ownership. Rather than a way on to the housing ladder, shared ownership was, he said, "just a tenancy, with an expensive downpayment for an option to buy the whole property at a later date".

One shared owner found this out the hard way when, after falling behind on her rent, she was evicted from her part-owned property and a court ruled she had no right to the £30,000 she had already paid for her share.

Kelly describes a litany of problems with the scheme, which tends to end up combining the worst aspects of homeownership and renting. Tenants are tied down to one property, responsible for keeping it repaired and maintained, and need to pay a much larger deposit to secure it; but at the same time, they aren't insulated from rent rises or jumps in service charges, and the bulk of the money they pay each month isn't building equity for anyone other than the developer's shareholders.

On top of that, there's problems unique to shared-equity. The market for second-hand part-owned homes it particularly illiquid, so good luck selling your share for anything like what you spent on it.

If everything goes well, you may be the one in five who actually ends up taking full ownership of their house. If it doesn't… you won't.

 

Flat-hunting. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.