We’ve been brought up to believe that an Englishman’s home is his castle and since the days of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, home ownership has been seen as the holy grail of adulthood; the ultimate expression of social and financial stability. But are those days now gone?
It hasn’t always been thus; when my then husband and I bought our first home back in 1972, our parents looked on with an almost tangible pride. You see, they lived in council houses – and council estates in those far away days were not the bridge-too-far that they are seen to be now. Most council home owners cared for their property every bit as much as if they owned the bricks and mortar themselves; true, at my ‘posh’ all girls grammar school I was looked down upon for a while – I was the first ‘estate-kid’ to be admitted to that school and most of my peers were the daughters of bank managers and solicitors. The fact remains that, before the first World War, over 90% of the population rented their homes. Wealthy folk who could quite easily have afforded to buy a house didn’t bother because the link between social status and home ownership hadn’t evolved.
Following the war women’s magazines, spurred on by the men coming home from the front, were filled with articles on homemaking, family and marriage and the idea of home ownership grew more and more attractive. This was compounded by the labour government, which viewed home ownership as a way for the electorate to free themselves from tyrannical landlords.
Thatcher and Hesseltine’s Housing Act of 1980 allowed tenants who had lived in their homes for at least three years to buy at 33% discount of the market price and 44% for a flat; if you had been living in your council home for more than 20 years the discount increased to 50%. Following this, home ownership soared, growing from 55% of the population in 1980 to 64% in 1987. When Thatcher left office in 1990, home ownership stood at 67%. An all time high of home ownership was reached in 2003 when 71% of the population were owner occupiers.
During the intervening years the British population has hankered to fill their homes with the latest fixtures and fittings and home improvement programmes fill our television screens whilst the newsagents’ shelves groan beneath the weight of home improvement magazines. But is the Sarah Beeney generation on its way out?
The past three years of economic turmoil and housing market stagnation has led to a sea-change and Britain is rapidly becoming a nation of renters and investing home improvers. The number of home owners has fallen to 67% and that number is forecast to fall to 60% by 2020
With mortgage companies demanding £20,000 as a deposit, first time buyers stand little chance of getting on the housing ladder without help from their parents and the credit crunch means that far fewer parents are in a position to help their offspring to do so.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that those privately renting their homes make up 14% of the population, a significant rise from the 8% of the late eighties. Leading estate agent, Savills, predict a rise in this figure to 20% within the next ten years. Additionally, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Housing undertaken last year revealed that only 33% of 18 to 24 year olds believe that home ownership is the ‘ideal living situation.’
As Elizabeth Day said in yesterday’s Guardian, “we are faced with a situation where home ownership, the ultimate aspiration of generations of Britons, is becoming increasingly untenable. On the one hand, house prices still remain too high for most of us. On the other, social housing has become a marginalised sector, associated with deprivation and impoverished life chances. Those who earn more than £12,000 a year but less than £25,000 are stuck in between – too rich for social housing; too poor for the mortgage lenders.”
Surely, the time is ripe for the development of a safe and reputable rental sector; certainly, if you can afford to invest in property this is the time to be doing so. Perhaps you should be busily seeking out repossessions…