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Introducing... Generation Rent

The first rung of the housing ladder is unreachable for too many people.

An Englishman’s home is his castle, the adage goes, but increasingly it feels as if many of us in “Generation Rent” will never know what it is to own a home.

No Place to Call Home is the fitting title of a recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) which reveals “the social impacts of housing undersupply on young people”. The report shows that, although most young people want to own their own home, they are “unable to see how this aspiration can be fulfilled” and “a sense of frustration has set in”.

The report highlights how difficult the “search for stability” has become. Such rootlessness can affect all areas of life, from work to relationships, leading to what IPPR calls a “stifling of potential”.

The challenge of securing a rented room is becoming ever greater as the competition for accommodation increases, especially in cities such as London. Illustrating what a charade the whole thing has become, an email pops into my in-box advertising a “speed flatmating” event in London. You are invited to meet multiple potential flatmates in a single evening; the service clearly caters for a city as time-poor as it is money-poor for many.

On some room-hunting websites, you’ll find the rotten underbelly of exploitation to which the unlucky might fall victim: conmen trading on people’s desperation to avoid homelessness and taking money for what turns out to be substandard accommodation.

I am part of a generation with both feet firmly off the property ladder. Members of Generation Rent have lives that, rather than following a linear trajectory, take a “boomerang” shape: many of us are forced to return to the childhood home in early adulthood, having struggled to find independence. “Flying the nest” used to mean for ever but it no longer does, given the economic crisis, rising rents and student debts. (There are half a million more young people aged between 20 and 34 living with their parents than in 1997 and three million in total, according to the IPPR report.) The pattern and shape of adult lives are indeed a-changin’.

The future does not look bright. According to a 2011 study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.5 million more young people will live in the private rented sector over the period to 2020. Statistics also show that large numbers of first-time buyers receive financial help from their parents or grandparents. But not all are lucky enough to have the Bank of Mum and Dad to call upon, thus entrenching social inequality.

It took generations for some families to raise themselves out of poverty to a decent standard of living. Now, their children are either stuck on the same rung or falling back. What can be done to overcome such noxious, systemic problems?

The IPPR report recommends solutions that could carve “sustainable pathways towards home ownership”, from tackling housing undersupply and creating more homes to ensuring “a job guarantee for young people to mitigate the long-term ‘scarring effect’ of being out of work for a significant period of time”.

At present there is little in the way of a safety net to catch many of those who are falling into the private rent trap or worse. With loans, debts and the toxic cuts to welfare benefits further hampering young people’s movement, the first rung of the housing ladder is destined to remain unreachable for many.

Yet, with the ground so shaky beneath our feet, it is worth remembering that it shouldn’t be a luxury to have a roof over your head – it’s a necessity.

Anita Sethi is a literary journalist and broadcaster

This article first appeared in the 28 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, After Chavez

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.