The saying goes that if you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart; if you’re not conservative by the time you’re 40, you have no brain. But what’s missing from the adage in today’s Britain is that, if you fall somewhere within this age bracket, you probably don’t have a house either.
Despite unemployment figures hovering at an all-time low, the cost of living crisis has meant that young people’s salaries cannot deliver for them the same opportunities granted to previous generations. The lack of supply in the housing market has made it near-impossible for people on average salaries to get on the housing ladder. And according to the ONS, “young adults (aged 20 to 34) in the UK are more likely to be sharing a home with their parents than any time since 1996”.
The growing divide between those who own a home and those who don’t breeds both disillusionment and resentment. One in four young people (18-34) are so pessimistic about the housing situation that they believe they will never be able to afford their own home. Meanwhile, another quarter of young people are relying on inheritance to become a buyer. News this week that the “Bank of Mum and Dad” now contributes to 26 per cent of property purchases highlights the extreme inequality of opportunity: home ownership should not be an exclusive privilege for those from well-off backgrounds.
And disenchantment doesn’t stop there. Opinion polls continue to find that young people are putting off both marriage and children due to financial concerns, including the sky-high costs of childcare (some of the highest in the OECD). Despite criticism that millennials have no desire to grow up, there is an even more compelling argument that many are desperate to step into adulthood but are impeded by policies stacked against the young.
Where has the Conservative party been on addressing these issues? During the coalition, they were busy protecting the triple-lock on state pensions and defending a wildly out-of-date planning system. And while Prime Minister May’s government has kept coolly quiet on the triple-lock pre-manifesto launch, the housing white paper released by her communities secretary earlier this year re-committed the party to protecting the green belt (even the dump sites), ruling out an overhaul of a restrictive planning system that is fully at odds with demand for more homes.
Given these circumstances, it’s not surprising that, despite being behind by an enormous percentage among the general population, Labour leads by a 27 point margin among 18-24 year olds.
Unfortunately, young people are being sold the false premise (by Labour and others) that the housing bubble is somehow a result of free market policy at work, the fault of greedy developers and land-banking, when in reality it’s a rigged system that throws all notion of supply and demand out the window.
The Conservatives’ failure to articulate a different agenda has left an opening for Labour to reinforce this damaging narrative and offer new solutions – almost all revolving around more spending and interventionism. Labour’s policies won’t give young people the leg up they promise – indeed, they are more likely to bankrupt them – but unlike the Conservatives, who are focused on handouts for the older generations, Labour is offering the younger age bracket freebies too.
What a depressing state of affairs. Perhaps it’s not a lack of head or heart – but a lack of a decent choice – that will ensure many young people won’t bother to turn up at the polls at all.