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Joining Generation Rent isn’t a quirky choice – it’s our unavoidable state of economic insecurity

When we couldn't even afford the flat with the demonstrably wonky floor, I had to come to terms with the fact I'll probably be renting for life.

“The floor is wonky.” My boyfriend is the first to point out that the floor is wonky. “Hmm,” says the estate agent, a man who has been professionally trained to pretend the floor isn’t wonky. “Well, you could always get a home inspection before you buy,” he says, hopefully.

It’s hard to imagine that there is a home inspector who would not place “floor at an angle that floors should never be” in the column marked “Bad”.

However, it turns out we needn’t have worried, because as it quickly becomes ­apparent, we cannot afford this flat. It may be cheap (see: floor, wonky), but it turns out that the online mortgage calculator lied. The real mortgage calculator – a man in a tie – was not as kind.

I have now been forced to accept that I am part of what is colloquially known as “Generation Rent”. (We have also been called “the new young fogeys” and “digital natives”.) This nickname makes lifelong renting sound like a quirky choice rather than a state of perpetual economic insecurity, but it sums up the current state of affairs well. Home ownership in England is at a 30-year low, and the government was recently forced to admit in a white paper that the housing market is “broken”. In the past 12 years, the proportion of people aged 25-34 who buy a house with a mortgage has decreased from 53 to 35 per cent.

I wouldn’t dare paint myself as disad­vantaged, but it is hard to come to terms with the fact I will probably never own a house. As a child, the idea of owning a home was such a given that my fantasies focused instead on owning one with a slide, and a ball pit, and a secret room hidden behind a bookcase. Now any house at all is a dream.

Many members of the older generation like to call my age group “entitled”. Though I mostly disagree, on this one matter I will concede that they are right. I am entitled. I am entitled to own a home if my partner and I work hard every day, if we never rack up a single penny of debt, if we save and budget in an attempt to secure a deposit. Despite doing these things, however, we can’t afford a place to call our own.

What I can’t forgive older generations for is the myth that we millennials simply need to give up our luxurious habits in order to become homeowners. Aside from the fact that these “luxuries” they speak of seem to be our £3 supermarket meal deals (the only suitable reply to “What’s wrong with a soggy spam sandwich?” is “Everything”), this is the basest propaganda, designed to make us feel guilty for the economic mess-ups of the generation before us.

Last month, the BBC broadcast a story titled “How to own a home by the age of 25”, featuring four couples who had managed this feat. The tricks and tips seemed to be: use the government’s Help to Buy mortgage scheme (now discontinued), and don’t buy anything, ever. I resent the lie that young people just need to “give up our posh coffees”. I don’t even drink coffee.

Help to Buy is no big loss, because this mortgage scheme, which enabled buyers to get a mortgage with just a 5 per cent deposit, favoured the affluent middle classes and could be exploited by the already privileged. Although various elements of Help to Buy still exist, many claim that they do nothing to resolve the underlying crisis.

Our one flat viewing was part of a pipe dream (the pipes, by the way, were peeling and rusty). Short of finding out that I have a long-lost relative who wants me to stay in a haunted house for one night to prove I deserve a million dollars, I stand no chance.

And I still haven’t come to terms with our position. The bowls would match the plates, you see, and the plates would match the cups. The only dirty housemate I would have to worry about would be a chocolate cocker spaniel named Ludo, and – because dogs don’t have the ability to turn on the hob – we’d never run out of pans. There would (and I am especially keen for this) not be a landlord who, upon the news that actual human waste was coming up into the kitchen sink, threatened to evict me for complaining about it.

I imagine that this dream can still happen because I imagine that eventually my finances will change. But if they do, the house prices will have changed, too. In 2016 the average British home increased in value by £56.57 a day – a day! – totalling £19,348 in the year. I will never catch up with this. I am stuck in an impossible game of tig.

So hey, let’s be more like the French and the Germans, who are happy to rent for their entire lives. The only problem with this attempted attitude adjustment is that the situations are so different. Renting in Germany is a widespread and safe experience, with an array of legal protections for tenants. In the UK, it took a seven-month campaign for the government simply to ban letting fees – a policy that hasn’t yet been put into practice.

Coming to terms with not owning a house is, therefore, coming to terms with a lot of other things. A life of renting means a life where I live at the whim of a landlord, where my home could be taken away at any minute. It means a life of housemates, and a life where it takes weeks to fix leaks and boiler breakdowns. I won’t get to paint my own walls, or even stick pins in them, and I won’t get to see Ludo’s little paws scramble across the (wonky or not) floor.

PS: If you want to help buy me a house, please feel free.

Amelia Tait is a digital culture writer for newstatesman.com

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The return of al-Qaeda

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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