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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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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear