Getting Your Life Sorted By The Time You Hit 39 – Or Even 49 – Is Going To Become Impossible If We Don’t Tackle The Housing Crisis

The traditional life stages of adulthood are harder than ever to reach - so where, asks Vicky Spratt, does that leave a growing generation of 30-something 'trapped renters'?

Housing Crisis

by Vicky Spratt |
Updated on

I take a pretty dim view of30 under 30 lists. Nor am I a fan of arbitrary life deadlines, which mark when you're suddenly meant to have your life together by. Yet still we’re obsessed with people who do things young and, aside from that time Celine (old Celine) got Joan Didion involved in a sunglasses campaign, we see still success - particularly female success - as synonymous with youth. Which is highly problematic and demoralising for all of us. It makes us rush through our twenties, treating our lives like a feverish game of supermarket sweep.

We throw everything into our basket – relationships, friendships, hobbies, side hustles, social consciences, career ambitions, savings, instagrammable nights out - until it overflows, beating ourselves up for all the things we can’t seem to hold onto before we reach the checkout at 30. Incidentally, I can confirm from the breach that is 30 and three quarters that 30 turns into 35 which, I imagine, then turns into 40.

The obsession with youth and life cut off points turns us all into that meme of a maniacal Cruella Deville gripping the steering wheel of a car, teeth gritted, wild red eyes wide open with the caption ‘me trying to excel in my career, maintain a social life, drink enough water, exercise, text everyone back, stay sane, survive and be happy’.

So, just before Christmas when I read what I’m sure is a very reliable study by an insurance company who can’t possibly have any vested interests whatsoever which says that the average British person should have their career, love life and social relationships all sorted out by 39 I rolled my eyes. ‘Here we go again’ I thought despairingly while reaching for my phone because reading about it actually reminded me that I needed to pay off my credit card and text about 7 people back.

It’s really important to stress that economically speaking, all of the data shows that young adults today are just not in the same position as our parents and grandparents were at the same age. As the Resolution Foundation pointed out last year, young adults in Britain have suffered the biggest reversal in their financial fortunes than their peers in other developed countrieswith the exception of Greece.

Study after study has confirmed that it is really, really affecting our mental health. So, we can only conclude that so-called studies like the one above are designed to make us feel even worse about that than we do already, guilting us into buying insurance because we feel bad about being unable to buy a house, afford to have kids or save enough towards a pension despite the fact that none of this is our fault at all.

Now is a very good time to remember the above. In fact, there’s probably never been a better time. Last week housing charity Shelter released a landmark report, which was put together by a cross political party commission to look at the state of the housing crisis.

The findings mostly confirmed what we already know – housing in Britain is unaffordable and unstable for many, many people, the private rental sectors favours landlords’ rights above those of tenants and we don’t have anywhere near enough social housing to help those most affected by the situation. However, there was another finding which we should all be paying more attention to.

There’s a common misconception that I come across a lot in my reporting on housing that it’s only feckless avocado-guzzling millennials who are affected by the cost of renting and unable to buy a house. This, of course, is so clearly untrue because we know the private rented sector has been expanding year on year, that the last decade saw an unprecedented rise in the number of people in their 40s who are being forced to rent, as well as the number of families living in sometimes very poor rented accommodation that the mind boggles. But, nonetheless, it comes up over and over again.

Hopefully, Shelter’s report will debunk this myth once and for all and, in doing so, serve as a reminder that it is now harder than ever, particularly if you are from a low income background but even if you are reasonably well paid, to forge the sort of secure, stable and safe home you need to be the base where you put down roots from which everything else in your life will grow.

The report found that over a million British families will pay expensive rents forever, never able to afford to buy their own home. This is because spiralling private rents are now seeing lower earners caught in a rent trap with an average of 67% of their wages going straight into their landlord’s pocket.

If you are shocked by this then you either haven’t been paying attention or you’re lucky enough to have been totally insulated from the housing crisis.

As Shelter’s commission concluded we urgently need more social housing in this country, but we also need to acknowledge the serious economic pressures being put on young adults and families who do not own their own home.

Serious changes are needed at a government level, and that’s not just to build more houses for private sale. We need to think bigger than that, we need more social housing, yes, but we also need to tackle the overpriced quagmire that is our private rented sector. It was no secret that it was unsustainable for rents to rise at a faster pace than people’s wages as they have in recent years. Now we’re looking at the very serious consequences of allowing it to happen. How can you do anything let alone save for a pension if 67% of your income goes on rent?

Until we make those changes, it’s going to be ever difficult to get your life sorted out by 30, 35 or 40 or even 50 unless, of course, you’ve got unconditional access to the Bank of Mum and Dad which not everyone has

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