Is The Big City Dream Over? High Rents Forcing Young To Stay Away

Photographed by Serena Brown
Young people can no longer afford to move to cities where salaries are higher, according to new research. It sounds like a cruel joke, but no, this is the UK in 2019. Not only does the housing crisis mean rent costs are swallowing up a huge chunk (or even most) of our income, it's also preventing us from being able to earn higher wages and climb the career ladder.
The problem – a "fall in job-plus-home mobility", as today's report from the Resolution Foundation defines it – is true across the generations, but it's particularly the case for young people. This means it's become less likely for us to leave the areas in which we grew up or went to university to increase our job prospects in the country's big cities like London.
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Starkly, the number of people private renters aged 25 to 34 who moved for a job has dropped by 40% over the last two decades, partly because, despite the higher salaries available in big cities, the financial incentives for moving have declined. Given the potential benefits of moving for our careers – the chance to develop new skills, take on new roles and foster professional networks, to name a few – it means the cost of housing is damaging our pay and career prospects, the Resolution Foundation said.

It feels like there's an expiry date on our potential to get the jobs we want.

Laura Tecklenberg, 22
The cost of renting privately has ballooned by up to 90% in the highest-paying areas of the country, compared to 70% in the areas with the lowest pay. Nowadays, if you earned an average wage and were paying average rent and decided to move from Corby in Northamptonshire to Barnet, north London, you'd be 22% worse off, but in 1997 you'd have been 6% better off. Similarly, 20 years ago if you were on average earnings and paying average rent in Scarborough, in the north of England, and decided to move to Leeds, while paying average rent and earning an average salary, you'd have been 29% better off. But fast forward to 2018 though and the benefit would be just 4% because of rising rents and stagnant wages over this period.
Laura Tecklenberg, 22, from Kettering in Northamptonshire, is about to graduate from university and embark on a career as a freelance fashion photographer and visual artist – an industry that thrives in London – but, as things stand, she'll have to move back in with her parents. She says this "will definitely affect [her] career" and could leave her earning as little as the minimum wage in a restaurant or bar job, which "isn’t really ideal", as she's still three years away from being eligible for the national living wage.
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Laura Tecklenberg
"I want to move away from my childhood home and develop my career in fashion photography, but the stress of housing costs in the UK taints the entire experience of being young and in my twenties – a time that is meant to be the best years of your life," she says. "It feels like there's an expiry date on our potential to get the jobs we want, to earn enough to live where we want and to achieve certain things."
While there are plentiful opportunities in the industry in London, Tecklenberg believes she would potentially earn even less while interning in London than she does now while freelancing. "This would boost my experience and increase my chances of getting the jobs I actually want in the future," she says, but she admits she's in a catch-22 situation. "If I was earning more working in London, most of it would go back into covering my living costs, but if I stayed and worked in my hometown I could save up more money but I wouldn't be working in a job I'd be happy in."

I just want to do the job I love and the opportunities that Londoners have on their doorsteps.

Maya Marsden, 23
Maya Marsden, 23, a recent graduate who has always dreamed of working for a magazine, is in a similar situation and is attempting to forge a career as a freelancer in Greater Manchester, where she lives, in lieu of being able to move to London, where most of the media industry is based. "Wages no longer reflect the true cost of living, even with slightly higher salaries in London. I'd love to work as a magazine intern but I just can't because of the high rents," she says. "There are not many outlets in North West England. Everything is in London and there is definitely a north-south divide."
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Maya Marsden
Marsden is currently applying for jobs, such as sales advisor positions, in her home town while building up her freelance portfolio as a fashion and beauty writer, in the hope that she'll be able to move to the capital eventually. "For me, it's not about making more money in London. I just want to do the job I love and have the opportunities that Londoners have on their doorsteps."
Young people today are "at the sharp end of the housing crisis," the Resolution Foundation asserts, which we knew already, of course, but its report highlights the far-reaching consequences on lives, beyond just immediate living standards. "Moving matters especially for those at the beginning of their working lives," it concludes. "The housing choices of today’s younger people are bearing down on their living standards to a greater extent than they did for previous generations at the same age."
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