The joys of renting are overlooked in the rush to buy

'Renting isn’t such a disastrous economic choice': Getty Images

The Chancellor has abolished stamp duty for first-time buyers under £300,000 to lure more people into the housing market but is home-ownership the be-all and end-all? Who can deny the human instinct to nest, but the need to own property has only really arrived in the past 100 years.

In 1918, around 75 per cent of the UK population lived in privately rented accommodation. Admittedly, people were not writing poetry about the glory of their digs but society managed perfectly. Now 60 per cent of us are owner-occupiers, the rest split between social and private renters.

And yet those who rent are made to feel like failures for not having a two-up two-down with their chosen Farrow & Ball paints on the wall.

Renting costs money, but so too does re-roofing the house you own, or paying the annual maintenance charge on a shared block — costs that are ignored as inconveniences when planning mortgage payments. And then there are the surprise plumbing bills, or going slightly crazy getting a dream kitchen to make up for the lack of other excitement in your life.

I once did a spreadsheet to work out the difference between renting a small, well-priced flat and owning outright, projected 30 years ahead. The money I would have put down as a deposit would instead have gone into dullish stock-market investments, and it was based on average rises over the past 30 years in both. House prices won, but not by much.

There’s also an advantage to renting, which is a freedom to move based on your economic circumstances. You shape your home to your life rather than the other way around. This is the kind of flexibility a Chancellor will talk up as a good thing in the workplace, but when it comes to housing he wants to pin you down.

Given that renting isn’t such a disastrous economic choice, and indeed may have many virtues, perhaps next year’s Budget could stop sweeping us renters under the carpet and instead put in some measures to make the experience even better.

Top of the crops: Lily and Cara lead the Hairline Index

Top of the crops: Lily Cole (Dave Benett)

The Hemline Index, a theory from 1926, proposes that skirt lines go up as the stock market rises, while hemlines head down to the ankles during a bad patch. It is not scientific. If it were, given how high the stock market has risen since the 1920s, fashion designers would have given up on skirts altogether.

It is only a matter of time before an economist formulates a Hairline Index. Yesterday Lily Cole, a model and actress turned businessperson, appeared with a new pixie cut. The pre-Raphaelite strawberry blonde mane was gone. Cara Delevingne has also sacrificed her tresses on the altar of cool, and the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed a change in my picture above. The scissors came out this summer; the mop came off.

My hunch is that it is less to do with women and more to do with 21st-century men, who have chosen to indicate their status by the length of their hair and the lushness of their beard. They are not Reginald Perrins taking their regimented trains in the morning; they have the time to fret about their grooming at the mirror in the morning before flipping open their laptops and grabbing a latte.

The economist at this time might, instead of looking at the women, consider analysing them: their place in the gig economy, flexibility in the workplace and money saved on ties being spent on hair products. They may even talk of it as a sign of emerging equality in society.

Women’s sudden haircuts always look radical, and because of that, people will go hunting for reasons as to why it has happened. For men, though, there’s been a much slower revolution — full tresses do not grow overnight.

Bring Christmas to a refugee

My Black Friday is usually Christmas Eve, when I race to Liberty to get my mother a nice scarf. There are, however, two gifts I’ve spotted as perfect stocking- fillers. One is the slim volume of two essays by Mary Beard called Women & Power — perfect for men as a gently persuasive read. The other is a donation gift card from the Choose Love store on Soho’s Broadwick Street, for Help Refugees, which buys jackets for children and blankets and basics for families on the move in southern Europe and beyond. The sort of thing Mary and Joseph might have appreciated.

We have to hand it to the French

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has gazed into a crystal ball and this is the vision: you will plug in at work but by 2022 your pay will be three per cent lower than now; you will be struggling to get a doctor as the National Health Service creaks; and that nice little trip you had planned to Leeds for its year as the European Capital of Culture — well, scratch that.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, our neighbours in Europe are outstripping us with energy and optimism. Today’s FT reports a 17-year high in job growth and manufacturing orders in the EU, and French businesses report levels of confidence not seen for 10 years.

It is almost as if they’ve doubled down at work just to spite us.


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