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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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.