Estate agent signs in London. Photo: Paul Maguire
Young workers speaking up for housing
The UK is caught in a deepening housing crisis, which is particularly hitting younger people. House building is stuck at a historically low level meanwhile the waiting list for social housing has reached 1.7 million in England alone. The ‘Right to Buy’ has drastically reduced the number of council homes available for rent, as replacements haven’t been built in anywhere near the number needed to keep up. The absence of new social housing has made private house prices more volatile, young first-time buyers are being crowded out by investors with existing wealth and tax breaks who buy to let.
It will come as no surprise that housing was once again voted as a top priority issue for young people at this year’s TUC Young Workers Conference. As a young(ish) person myself I’ve struggled –unsuccessfully- to get on the housing ladder and living in London still give away around 40% of my salary to the landlord for a basic suburban flat. I share the frustrations of many in my situation who just want the security of a roof over their head, a place to call home that’s safe and affordable.
As a consequence of the unavailability of both social housing and affordable mortgages the under-35 age group now make up over half the tenants in the private rented sector. The private rented sector is now the most expensive form of housing and yet a third of the homes fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard. In addition, cuts to housing benefit have hit young people hardest; young people under 25 no longer qualify for any housing benefit.
The TUC in partnership with Generation Rent sent out a web questionnaire last year, asking young people about their living situation and their experiences of the housing market, we received over 2,300 responses in just a week. The results found that only a quarter (26%) of the under-35s who responded had bought a home, while half were renting (45% private tenants, and 5% social tenants) and 23% were living with parents or someone else’s home. Of those young workers who live in someone else’s home, 18% had chosen to because of the nature or insecurity of their job.
According to Shelter and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, spending more than a third of your disposable income on rent or a mortgage means you may not be able to afford other basic needs. Our survey found that over half of the survey’s renters (53%) paid an unaffordable level of rent. Using the salary and rent payment figures that respondents gave, we calculated that the average rent-to-salary ratio was 41% – close to the figure found by the government’s English Housing Survey. In London this figure is 44%. Of course that’s just an average, and young workers on lower pay are being hit for much more of their wages.
34% of young workers with their own home paid more than a third of their income on mortgage repayments. Young workers who had been able to buy have largely had to seek help from parents and others: 59% relied on financial help from their family and friends to buy their home.
The situation cannot be allowed to continue. As the general election approaches we have a unique opportunity to let candidates know that a condition of winning young people’s support is strong policies for tackling the housing crisis. Generation Rent are running ‘an email your candidate’ campaign to find out what local election candidates’ plans on housing are, which the TUC’s Young Workers’ Forum are backing.