You Don't Need To Tell Me That A 26-Year-Old Can't Afford To Buy A House

Photo: Getty/Artemis Koutsouva/EyeEm.
In news that will surprise absolutely no one, the chance of 25 to 34-year-olds owning their own homes has "collapsed" over the past 20 years, according to new research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Tell us something we don't know, right?
Headlines have been dominated by sorry tales about the housing market for more than a decade now. The number of us stuck living with parents well into our twenties and thirties is at a "record high" and we're putting off starting families as a result. We're trapped in an extortionate, unregulated rental market (they don't call us Generation Rent for nothing), and priced out of our areas of choice, having to uproot our entire lives to secure a pile of bricks and mortar with our name on it. This is our reality – nothing I've written will be revelatory to anyone.
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However, when you delve beyond the catchy headline findings of the IfS' new report, the research really hammers home the extent of the problem and how far beyond our individual control it is – despite what certain multi-millionaires, intent on proffering us unsolicited financial advice, may claim. A house-price boom coupled with stagnant incomes has been a lethal combination for young people wanting to own even a modest home of their own, a rite of passage that was considered a key marker of adulthood by their parents and grandparents.
Even those on decent middle incomes (£22,200 to £30,600) are now locked out of home-ownership, with property-owning among this group dropping the most over the last two decades, according to the IfS. In 1995-96, 65% of this group owned a home, compared to just 27% in 2015-16, with south-east England, where house prices have seen some of the biggest hikes, seeing the most significant drop.
Middle income young adults born in the 1980s are now no more likely to own a home than low earners, while in the 1970s they were almost as likely as their higher-earning peers to be able to buy a property during adulthood.
The research also highlights the growing gulf between rich and poor people in this country. As you'd expect, the wealthiest have been able to weather this housing shitstorm with relative ease, with those in the top income bracket having been the least affected, while middle earners have seen the largest decline in ownership rates and ownership among low earners has remained down.
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One finding that's even more dejecting, however, is the extent to which our family background plays a part in our ability to own a home – underlining what anyone with wealthy friends already knows: the unspoken, unshakable importance of being able to withdraw funds from the bank of mum and dad. Even in 2018, you're more likely to own a home at 25- to 34-years-old if your parents are lawyers or teachers (i.e. in "higher-skilled jobs") than if they're delivery drivers or sales assistants ("lower-skilled jobs"). The difference is 43% verses 30%, according to the IfS, throwing the lack of social mobility in this country into sharp relief.
Research on millennial British homeowners last year also found that over a third (35%) had help from parents, while over a quarter (27%) moved back in with their parents to save for a deposit, and a further 27% borrowed from family to meet the unexpected costs after purchasing a house. So again, the influence of parents when it comes to home ownership is not "news", but research is a welcome reminder than it's no use feeling inferior if you haven’t yet cobbled together enough cash to buy a property by yourself.
This is something I'm all too familiar with as a 26-year-old "child" of low-income parents who rents a flat in London, but who is also friends – and went to university – with people at the opposite end of the spectrum. Among the few people I know who have already bought properties in the capital, not one has done it without complete or partial help from parents. One owns a multi-million pound house in a plush part of north-west London with a sibling around the corner in a similarly extortionate pad (the deposits paid, in full, by their parents and yet they charge their friends rent to pay off the mortgage); another's parents just paid their deposit on a lavish south-London flat by the Thames (again, with a sibling getting the same handout); while a few others have only been able to get a leg-up onto the ladder thanks to a hefty inheritance.
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I'm resigned to the fact that I will only ever be able to buy a property with someone else – and with a lot of financial sacrifice on my part. But the answer to this wider injustice doesn't lie in young people like me modifying their behaviour or giving up the minor "luxuries" that make life bearable – we know that the sums of money saved from sacrificing nights out and plates of avocado toast pails in comparison to the price of a home, and this would do nothing to solve the country-wide housing crisis.
It's up to the government and local councils to fix the broken housing market. The UK population continues to increase and yet the rate of housebuilding remains pitiful. In November's budget, the chancellor committed to increasing the rate to 300,000 homes per year and making it easier for councils to build in the most in-need areas, but this already looks like a pipe dream, with even Conservative MPs critical of the plan, claiming the target is both out of reach and doesn't go far enough.
The government also cut stamp duty for first-time buyers in November in a bid to help young people, but the Office for Budget Responsibility soon warned this would inflate house prices even further, helping existing homeowners. So, with a government as useless, shortsighted and preoccupied with Brexit as ours, we could be well into middle-age by the time things start looking up.
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