There is paint under my nails. An old pair of jeans torn at the knee and a spattered black polo shirt have been relegated to a corner in the wardrobe, officially fit now only for “jobs around the house”. I do not rush into redecorating on my own account. If I never spend another hour in B&Q or Homebase I would not be disappointed; a fetish for home improvement has passed me by.
Despite my very strong aversion to DIY I’ve been helping out in my daughter’s new flat. This weekend she and her partner moved into their new home, a momentous step for them and a major change for two sets of parents. Nests are normally only empty between broods but there is no prospect at all of our accommodating more chicks. We take comfort in the knowledge that our grown-up children are making their way in the world, satisfaction in knowing that at least part of our task as parents is substantially complete. And of course we share in their excitement as they furnish and decorate their new home and adopt a lifestyle centred around it, leaving behind more youthful pursuits.
Of course there is anxiety too in the scary financial commitments they have taken on, living with those decisions and all the responsibility that that entails, a need to plan for the long term and all the pressures placed on their relationship. But most of all I am struck by the overwhelming optimism they both show, their faith in the future, that together their lives are beginning and will continue to get better. Age makes us more cautious, if we were all old perhaps we would never leave home.
They are lucky of course to live in Scotland where house prices are more affordable. For many young people living elsewhere in the UK home ownership is now an impossible dream. And they have at least one set of parents helping to fund a deposit that those who have to rent will never be able to accumulate. Moving into a new home should be a time of hope but it is a hope that is more restricted now.
We bought our first house in 1989. Then there was no question that you should own your own home. It was like drinking or eating when you sat down at a table; if there was food and water in front of you why would you not? Mortgages were cheap and housing was readily available since the Thatcher government promoted the Right to Buy former council houses in 1980. Building Societies, formerly local membership organisations charged with balancing the short term borrowing and savings of members to support the building of new homes were ‘demutualised’ in 1986, along with deregulation of the London Stock Exchange, bringing in outside investors with a focus on profit and introducing innovative new financial products. The sale of council houses peaked in Scotland in 1989.
Of course every mortgage ad carried the warning that your property might go down in value as well as up. But as the first generation of mass mortgage buyers we were perhaps a little naive. I never heard the term negative equity until the 1990s when thousands of people found themselves trapped in houses whose value was less than the debt owed on them. As the proceeds from council house sales went, in part, to the Exchequer councils had less money to build new homes and less revenue from their remaining properties with the consequence that those unable or unwilling to buy their discounted home found themselves paying higher rents, the poorest in effect paying the subsidy for more affluent home buyers. Not for the last time it became clear that the financial services industry didn’t understand the innovative products it was (mis)selling and the only people who saw a real windfall from the sale of members interests in building societies were the private bankers who engineered their sales.
The legacy of Right to Buy and financial deregulation is fewer homes and mortgages out of reach for many first time buyers, austerity and depressed wages. Of course a home is not just an asset, a means of accumulating wealth and keeping it within the family. And home ownership is not the only or even always the best means of finding an affordable and desirable place to live. A home is as much the people within and the neighbours beside as the bricks and mortar that separate and bring them together. It is the place where we build our futures. I am concerned for the future of my child and the children of the UK.
A general election has been called for June 8 and at this point the overwhelming likelihood is that Theresa May will be returned as Prime Minister with a greater majority. What hope is she offering the electorate? I don’t know what Theresa May stands for, other than what seems to be the most prudent course of action at any given moment. Perhaps she stands most for self interest. If so she will deliver the same kinds of consequences as Margaret Thatcher who sold the people’s interests to benefit a wealthy and incompetent few.
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