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The housing crisis has turned the UK into a nation of adult children

This is Home Front with Vicky Spratt, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

For millions of young people in England and Wales, the independence of adulthood has never materialised. That moment that comes when you leave the family home, create one of your own, and begin, for the first time, to live on your own terms.

In 2021 data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that 4.9 million people under the age of 34 – who we would call millennials or Generation Z – are living with their parents. That’s up nearly 15 per cent on figures from 2011, when the number hit a record high.

The data was collected during the pandemic so it could be skewed by the Coronavirus crisis but, nonetheless, the ONS’s figures suggest that the number of people who never quite fly the nest has been on an upwards trajectory.

If you drill down into the ONS data, the findings are even more stark about these “adult children”.

Young men still living with their parents outnumber women by three to two.

And the number of 20 to 24-year-olds still in the family home is now 51.2 per cent. Ten years ago, it was 44.5 per cent.

For those aged between 30 and 34, there has been a 12 per cent increase.

Added to that, almost half of single-parent families now have adult children at home.

In London, where housing has become particularly expensive, one in four households had at least one adult child living at home.

It is surely no coincidence that the rise in the number of young adults still sharing a home with their parents as they move through their twenties and thirties has coincided with a historic rise in house prices which, since the year 2000 have gone up by 224 per cent, while wages have only increased by 94 per cent. Rents, too, are now more expensive than they’ve ever been. Average asking rents have now set a grim record by passing £1,000 a month outside London for the first time.

When the 2008 global financial crisis happened, think-tanks like the Resolution Foundation warned that it would have a scarring effect on the earning power of younger generations.

They were right. The fallout has also had a diminishing effect on their life chances. Unless you have wealthy parents who can help you buy a home of your own, you are now three times less likely to do so by the age of 30.

All of this marks a huge shift for our society, a moving of goalposts for young people without wealth and a narrowing of choices for anyone who relies on income as opposed to inheritance. It signals that there is less mobility in this country today. It is, quite literally, harder to get on and live your life for young adults now.

Younger generations have been infantilised by bad policy. Since 2010 it’s been clear that we have a severe and deepening housing crisis in Britain. And it’s been clear that young people (as well as anyone on a low income) are the hardest hit. By 2016, home ownership for young adults was in decline.

And yet, successive Conservative governments have willfully ignored them, doing nothing to make rents more affordable or build truly affordable housing. Instead, David Cameron’s government introduced schemes like Help to Buy which claimed to increase homeownership for young people but, in reality, helped those who already had money behind them.

Strapped for original ideas, the current prime minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly considering bringing Help to Buy back for another round.

Labour isn’t currently offering anything much better.

They should. In 2018, German researchers, who analysed data on 20,000 young adults, found those who move back to the family home face an increased risk of depression.

Millennials are now not so young. Like me, many are well and truly approaching early mid-life.

Generation Z are no longer teenagers, they’re twentysomethings entering the job market.

If politicians continue to ignore those who live at home because they can’t afford to do their own thing, we will be a country where millions of young adults never got to properly have a crack at adulthood.

The only upshot, I suppose, is that older people will have live-in carers as they age and, by the same token, younger adults who manage to have any semblance of a love life while living with their families, will have babysitters on hand, which may ease the fact that Britain has some of the most expensive childcare in Europe.

Whether either party wants to fulfil these roles is up for debate. And what the mental health implications would be is not being given as much attention as it deserves.

This issue – which is ultimately about freedom and autonomy – will shape our politics in years to come.

Politicians on all sides can ignore it at their peril. And, if they know what’s good for them, they will devise policies to win this demographic’s vote.

Key Housing

‘Far from a landlord exodus, in recent years we have seen investors pile into the rental market’ (Photo: Susannah Ireland/AFP)

A lot can happen in a week, can’t it? The Renters’ Reform Bill is finally here.

However, watch out for reports from other newspapers claiming that it has triggered a “landlord exodus”.

That data doesn’t quite tell the same story as the landlord lobby and some of my esteemed colleagues at other publications.

New Dwelling Stock Estimates for England in 2022 find that the number of dwellings in the private rented sector increased to 4.9 million, an increase of 11,000 dwellings on the previous year.

Darren Baxter, a principal policy adviser at the think-tank, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, explains that “far from a landlord exodus, in recent years we have seen investors pile into the rental market. In the past year, not covered by these latest figures, this may have started to change.”

“However, any decline follows a private renting peak, with the sector bigger than it has been for much of the last decade.”

Some landlords are selling up, it’s true. But not quite on the scale you might be led to believe.

I’d also like to draw your attention to some new research from the debt charity StepChange.

I was speaking with them last week just as the Renters’ Reform Bill hit Parliament, bringing with it the biggest shake up of private renting since the 80s and returning some of the rights taken away from private renters by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher back then.

StepChange told me that private renters are almost twice as likely to be struggling with problem levels of debt than the general population, with a sharp rise in the numbers in serious financial difficulty since January when double-digit inflation and rising interest rates really sunk in.

We know that private renters have less in savings than homeowners on average and, generally speaking, spend more of their income after tax on housing costs.

StepChange’s findings confirm that we should be very concerned about private renters – a group of around 11 million people – indeed.

Ask me anything

Housing Secretary Michael Gove had previously vowed to end the leasehold system of homeownership calling it an ‘unfair form of property ownership’  (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

This week a reader has been in touch to ask, “why the Government has backed down on abolishing leasehold homeownership?”

It’s a good question.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove had previously vowed to end the leasehold system of homeownership calling it an “unfair form of property ownership”.

However, last week it was revealed that while it will be reformed (via the regulation of ground rents, for instance) it will not be entirely abolished and replaced.

As for “why?”, I have a few theories.

Firstly, it could be that civil servants deem it too complicated. One who was working on the policy development told me that “it couldn’t be done”.

I’m not sure I agree, Australia has a commonhold system of homeownership (which is where people who buy flats in blocks own a share of the block as well as their flat) so there is international precedent.

Secondly, it could be that Rishi Sunak believes Mr Gove has already been radical enough with the Renters’ Reform Bill and decided to rein him in.

Or, finally, it could be that the incredibly powerful lobby of freeholders – many of whom are offshore funds headed up by wildly wealthy individuals – have been listened to.

The Government says it still plans to introduce reform – which was a manifesto commitment – at some point in this Parliament. How far those reforms will actually go remains to be seen.

Regardless, the Opposition has taken up the mantle and today tried to force a vote on the issue.

Ask your question for next week via Twitter @Victoria_Spratt, Instagram @vicky.spratt or email [email protected] 

Vicky’s pick

Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) in Catastrophe (Photo: Channel 4)

I have just discovered Catastrophe, a comedy from Sharon Horgan which was co-created with Rob Delaney. It’s absolutely hilarious and currently available on Netflix.  

This is Home Front with Vicky Spratt, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

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