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7 February 2022

Jonn Elledge

Why Kirstie Allsopp is victim-blaming young people for a broken housing market

The market makes the wealth of the old a direct result of the insecurity of the young.  

My first thought on the Twitter storm resulting from Kirstie Allsopp’s interview with yesterday’s Sunday Times is: you don’t get this nonsense with Phil, do you? Phil Spencer, the other half of the on-screen duo that has hosted Location, Location, Location and so forth since the year 2000, describes himself as a property investor, yet we never get headlines about how he thinks those who property investors have priced out of the housing market just need to pull their socks up. Is he better at keeping his mouth shut? Or are there just more clicks in stories of ostensibly heartless comments when spoken by a woman than a man?

I say “ostensibly” because Allsopp has spent much of the last 24 hours sitting on Twitter arguing she’s been misrepresented. True, she did tell the interviewers that there are more “drains on the finances of the young homebuyer” (Netflix, gym subscriptions and so on) than there had been in her 20s, and that “if I had any roots further north and I was trying to buy [I’d do it]”. But she does acknowledge the latter path is not an easy one, and the headline (“Of course young people can afford a home — just move somewhere cheaper, says Kirstie Allsopp”) implies a more heartless attitude than her quotes suggest. “Well done folks, Murdoch makes mugs of you again,” she wrote in one tweet this morning. Not just us, I fear. 

Even if Allsopp did speak more in sorrow than in anger though, her comments are not great. It isn’t just family links that stop people from moving to the other end of the country, but the jobs market. Even if you think a £20 gym membership is some kind of wild extravagance, having a job probably isn’t.  

Anyway, why should the young have to forego all pleasures just to have a hope of a home that they can’t be turfed out of at a few weeks’ notice? Apart from anything else, if prospective first-time buyers really did give up all such spending in an effort to get on the ladder, then large chunks of the economy would immediately collapse, no doubt leading to headlines about how selfish young people weren’t spending enough money on cocktails any more. Even then, most still wouldn’t be able to afford homes, because the average deposit required now stands at £59,000 and come on, nobody drinks that many cocktails. The problem isn’t that young people are terrible with money. The problem is that houses cost too much. 

There’s another reason Allsopp’s comments have annoyed so many people — a reason, come to that, why the Sunday Times opted for that specific headline in the hope of getting hate clicks. The idea that if only young people were less feckless they could afford homes is the sort of thing we hear rather a lot from older, more privileged or more right-wing people. This is not only wrong — buying really was easier when deposits were lower, which is why a lot more people managed to do it — it’s also victim blaming. The housing market is a machine for transferring money up the generations, the wealth of the old a direct result of the insecurity of the young.  

Obviously nobody wants to think their prosperity is the result of someone else’s misery (I can feel the angry “not all boomers” tweets being typed even now). Much better, instead, to suggest the young could do what their parents managed with ease — if only they had the discipline.

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