There was marvellous news this week from a study about housing. It showed after 38 years of governments obsessively trying to turn Britain into a nation of home owners, in a home-owning league table we’ve fallen to 27th out of 37 countries.
So Margaret Thatcher’s dream has come true. Her visionary speech on the matter went something like this: “One day, we shall proudly boast that British families, through the hard work British families have always been known for, will be less likely to own a home than if they came from Croatia, even though half their homes will have been burned to the ground in a war so Christ knows how we’ll manage that.”
The dream was that one day, instead of living in a miserable council house owned by the state, the individual would be able to look at that house, now resplendent with a brass door knocker and hanging basket from B&Q, and say, “Bloody hell, £300,000 even for that dump? I’ll have to carry on living in mum’s shed for another 40 years.”
There would have to be sacrifices, such as an end to social housing and the destruction of communities and uncontrollable levels of housing benefits paid to private landlords, but all worth it – because now we’re smugly 27th behind Romania and Mexico. At least the Mexicans will own their wall once they’ve paid for it. If our governments had been running Mexico, we’d end up renting the thing as we weren’t earning enough to get a mortgage.
Two decades ago it took the average family three years to save enough for a deposit for a house; now it takes 20 years. So it’s now possible that during the time it takes to save up, someone in the family will be born, grow up and then move out before they’ve even moved in.
Each year this gets worse, so we’ll soon be at the point where the family that lives in the house is an entirely different family from the one that started saving for it. You’ll set up an ISA account, save a bit each month until you retire, die, leave it to your kids, and they’ll do the same for nine generations until there’s enough for a deposit on a semi-detached converted cactus, which will be the main form of future housing due to global warming.
In London, the average sum paid by people in rented accommodation now amounts to 43 per cent of their income. This is increasing every year. Soon it will go over 100 per cent and we’ll become feudal. To live in a one bedroom flat with so much damp that spring onions are growing out of the plug sockets, you’ll have to give the landlord all your income, look after his chickens on a Sunday and let him have your wife on a Tuesday afternoon.
Once a year the Government comes up with a new scheme to address the problem with housing, such as “slip into a skip”, in which local councils lend you £200,000 at low interest rates to live in a skip as long as every night you take all the rubble that’s been chucked on top of you to a landfill site.
But none of these plans ever make much difference. This may be due to another problem – and although this is an eccentric economic theory, it might be the reason less people buy houses is that as the price goes up, less people can afford them. The Campaign for Social Housing estimates that, if groceries had risen in price since 1970 at the same rate as houses, a chicken would now cost £51. Maybe we should try this, and tie the entire economy to chickens in the way it’s now tied to houses, until couples boasted “we’re having some extra stuffing built as it pushes up the value” and there were programmes on television all day in which families argued because “he thinks we should buy this one but I don’t think the wings are big enough”.
The 40 year long obsession with property prices means most people’s security, savings and pensions are now wrapped up in their house. I suppose this is sensible, because the most reliable way to ensure citizens are protected in old age is to hope you bought a house 40 years ago in a location that became chic when someone opened up a shop selling sourdough bread and yoghurt made from panther milk will mean that when you get to 79 you can use the equity to buy a mobility scooter.
After all, if six people were stranded on a desert island, the most efficient way to organise the accommodation would be to build huts that could house only five of you, then one of you would rent out four of the huts at a price only three of you could afford, while the other hut was owned by a Russian oligarch and two of you slept under a tree with a scraggy turtle on a piece of string.
This is what’s happening to London, so soon the only people who can afford to live in the centre will be the Queen, Wayne Rooney and Cherie Blair. And they’ll have to spend all day mending each other’s palaces as the next person lives in Luton.
But still newspapers will report the “excellent news” about housing. “House prices have risen another 8 per cent so millions of people will have to eat their pets and go on the game and sell their stomach lining to science, to put a deposit on a place that used to belong to the council, before we were finally set free to enjoy owning our own homes.”