When the haves get worried not only about their futures but also those of their kids, the have-nots are really doomed
If all property is theft then I am a colossal thief. I sold my house via Foxtons. Thanks, Nick! See, I know how to get you onside; boasting of my palatial Hackney residence! The truth is that like anyone who bought property 20 years ago in London and tarted it up and just kind of lived in it, the profit made has nothing to do with my canniness or financial nous. It’s just that house prices have soared. I am the beneficiary of that. My children are its victims.
The very mention of property will send some insane. I should pretend, perhaps, that I live in a paper bag and the zillions of pounds my house was sold for was somehow due to me. But I don’t pretend at all.
I got lucky. Having been paid to leave my council flat and therefore being able to be part of a shared-ownership scheme was the game-changer for me.
Moving from a flat to a house changed my life because when you have kids, being able to get away from them is crucial. Indeed, one of the reasons I have now moved to a smaller property is so that they may get away from me. They have never asked me for anything but it is obvious that, with their loans and high rents, even with jobs they will not be able to buy in the city they grew up in, without some help.
You can denounce me as over-privileged because I bought a house, or we can stop this divide and rule and see that housing is at the root of the so-called generational conflict.
Reflexively, I find myself revolted at conversations about inheritance. That plus any discussion about kitchen tiles is, to me, the ultimate sign that I have crossed the floor into the full inferno of the bourgeoisie. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said that property was always about the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Apparently, Proudhon had not encountered estate agents. Now it’s just “lifestyle”. I never heard the word “inheritance” when I was growing up in the proverbial shoe box. My mum did indeed make a will but, being my mum, she forgot to sign it so she died intestate and there wasn’t much left anyway other than a fur coat and some er … “objets“.
It was only when I moved to London that I heard people talking about what Mummy and Daddy would leave them, what would one day be theirs. Being middle class seemed to me both morbid and tacky. You see, class consciousness is never learned theoretically, it is a knot in the stomach that forms at some infernal dinner party. It gives you heartburn as you regurgitate the indigestible facts of life: you must live in such a way so that when you die your children get the same stuff – or preferably more stuff – than you had. This is your raison d’etre.
Right now, though, many young people can’t get much stuff at all. What property can a young teacher in central London afford? We are still surrounded by TV and print property porn as tacky as any Kardashian show, yet this is somehow considered respectable.
One of the reasons for my “downsizing” is another facet of the generational divide. My pension fund has collapsed. So I reach for a buy-to-let property – yes, the insane spiral of property madness – that was to provide my pension, but must now, I feel, go towards my children. Therefore I have to work for ever, which is as bad for you as it is for me.
Not only had I imagined I would be lying around somewhere temperate on a chaise longue smoking opium, but the new, fresh hell is this realisation that I am a revolting bourgeois.
Those without property, suffering the fallout of bedroom tax and benefit caps – all of Generation Rent – are, of course, in a much worse state. But politically we must join the dots. We are all in it together now that the fantasy of growth has stalled. When the haves – people like me – get worried not only about their own futures but those of their kids, the have–nots are really doomed. But housing and Labour must see this: it is the cross–generational, cross-class issue that we have to focus on. Still, like most bad things, this crisis is my fault as I read on Wednesday in a headline in the Times that said: “Flighty older women to blame ‘for pushing up house prices’.”
If property is theft, though, do I want to live in a tent? My accountant always asks this patiently when I explain my house is worth a fair bit.
Across the pond, of course, actual tent cities have sprung up around places such as Detroit. When “home ownership” is elevated to some weird philosophical principle, as it still is, even though we have no idea how to maintain or sustain growth, something crazy is happening. Possession becomes more important than places for people to live in. Home is not where the heart is but where interest rates and inheritance tax are. As everyone says, we need to build more homes. We also need to cap private rents. We need to do this for everyone’s sake.
Otherwise we will remain divided even while we are all living in the same house.
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