"There are many things I’m grateful for in this life. My health, obviously. My friends. Aveda volumising shampoo and conditioner. The return of Dallas (are you watching? It reaches the parts that Desperate Housewives and Gossip Girl combined could not).
But there is nothing I am more weepingly thankful for than the fact that the ambition I conceived at primary school turned out to be such an (inadvertently) wise move.
At the age of nine, I became consumed with the ravening lust to buy my own home. Although my parents owned (ie had a mortgage on) their own house, most people I knew rented. Their underlying insecurity was palpable and stories of malevolent landlords were legend. In addition, Eighties house-price madness was kicking in and even at that age, I think I intuited that I would never make a ruthless Thatcherite businesswoman and I’d be left behind. After all, my career plans at that time included becoming Kirrin Island supervisor during George’s term time (The Famous Five, obviously) and kitten-sitting for my neighbours.
So I saved. Literally pennies at first, then pounds from Saturday and gap-year jobs. I trained as a lawyer largely because banks then waved through all mortgage applications from solicitors-to-be. Mine still doesn’t know I’m a freelance writer. (Don’t tell them, please.) I was the world’s most boring child, teenager, student and graduate, but eventually I got my flat – one bedroom, Zone 4, top floor of a flimsy newbuild that shuddered in a high breeze. I was 26 and it was the culmination of my life’s work. It’s all been downhill since.
You couldn’t pull the same trick today. Even an ambitious zygote wouldn’t be starting early enough. Ever since that fateful decade when the housing bubble began to grow, every government has resisted the urge to prick it, because it made us feel richer and more inclined to re-elect those responsible for our booming economy.
At the age of nine, I became consumed with the ravening lust to buy my own home
Now, of course, we are learning the consequences of their errors. The economy wasn’t really booming, it was just moving money around fast enough so no-one could spot it was fake. We weren’t getting richer, we were getting into debt.
In the wake of the credit crunch, the market has frozen. House prices haven’t fallen but first-time buyers (whose average age is now 35) are being priced out because salaries are falling and banks (despite now sitting on masses of taxpayer-funded reserves) now require huge deposits to hedge against default. In the absence of first-time buyers, rents have gone – and don’t pardon the pun – through the roof.
Why does it matter? Well, it matters to the individual because most of us crave security and a place to call our own. Most people would rather pay an affordable mortgage on an affordable property they’ll eventually own than pour money into landlords’ pockets when we still have few of the tenants’ rights enjoyed in other countries. There is also evidence, according to research by Shelter, that people are putting off starting a family because it’s harder to buy a home and renting is so insecure.
And it matters to society because it is a visible symbol of the various failures of government. The failure to act in anyone’s best interests but its own; its reluctance to put long-term stability before short-term profiteering. You can say we should have known the good times couldn’t last forever, and you’d have a point. But we elect governments in part to protect us from our own worst instincts – we elect them to think long term and keep the bigger picture in their heads.
Housing is a constant reminder of the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. When housing benefit is capped and local councils have to sell off their most valuable properties to make up funding shortfalls elsewhere, that divide will only get deeper and the streets will be increasingly ghettoised.
No society functions best when fewer and fewer people feel settled and secure. No society works best when inequality is tangibly enshrined in bricks and mortar, and certainly no society was best served by a government that seeks to aggravate this division at every turn. One hope remains – to find a boat and start rowing. They never had this problem on Kirrin Island, you know. Bring some kittens if you want to come too."
You can contact Lucy by email at [email protected] or follow her at twitter.com/lucymangan. My Family And Other Disasters is now available as an ebook (£4.99; amazon.co.uk)