Unaffordable Britain

There was an article in The Guardian this week about young Brits leaving London for more affordable Berlin. The reason people gave for leaving London were high rents and long working hours:

“I was working seven days a week and paying £800 for a shared flat in Lewisham. We kept moving further and further into south-east London, until I felt the need to leave entirely.” (Dani Berg)

Consumer prices are 30% less, and rental costs are 70% lower in Berlin. The downside of this of course is that rents are now being driven up much to the resentment of Berliners.

The idea that the UK has become unaffordable has really struck a cord with me. I live in the expensive South of England (my husband has his business here) – we are back in a rented property struggling to find a house that we can afford or that we want to live in. We both run our own businesses and work hard (“hardworking people” is a phrase I have grown to dislike since its cross party adoption). I have a number of friends who in recent years have fallen off the property ladder and now acknowledge that they are unlikely to ever get back on. I have come to realise how precarious our financial lives are; and they shouldn’t be.

Work is important, I know that it is good for our physical and mental health but it is not the be-all and end-all of our lives. Having time for family and friends, for relaxation, for cultivating other interests, for exercise, for academic pursuits – are all things that we know are protective factors for keeping us physically and mentally strong – and for giving us a more fulfilling life. But life has become so expensive that for many of us we can not afford to do anything other than work extensive hours or pursue uncomfortable promotion in order to afford the mortgage of a property we don’t get to enjoy because we are working so hard.

I don’t know the answers; I know it is going to get worse for younger generations as property prices become more and more unaffordable. First time buyers are now spending 30% to 40% more on their first homes than they would have done in 1969. I feel caught between my parents’ generation who have benefited from the increase in property prices and my son’s generation for whom home ownership isn’t even a tangible dream. Something has to change, or the impact on our health of the mortgage treadmill will become even more devastating.

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