Leaflets pile up on my doormat from estate agents. “For sale” signs are erected outside houses on my street. Tarpaulins covering exposed loft conversions blow in the wind. The signs are clear: people are looking for property in my area. I didn’t need a Daily Mail headline to shout at me: “House prices surging in EVERY region.”
In the UK, the value of life is measured in house prices, for those lucky enough to own one. To see house-price rises (especially those worth more than £900,000) as a cheery fact is to lack awareness. Rising prices are excluding entire generations from the housing market. See that housing ladder you climbed? Well, here’s the snake.
Never mind the subprime crash, the market cannot meet our needs at all
There’s a perversity to the way we compartmentalise issues around property, as if problems are not interconnected. We talk of selfish boomers who bought a house for a fiver, and yet we know that the average wage cannot secure mortgages in some of the UK’s largest cities. We talk of the bedroom tax, council tax, inheritance tax, capital gains and stamp duty as the only possibilities of levelling things out. However, there is a complete absence of understanding about how generations interact. The average purchase now is supposed to be an investment, a pension and even funding for future care. Given the current market, my generation even has to tap into the value of their home to provide deposits for their children.
More young adults have to live with their parents for longer, and as a result are having their independence taken away. Some of our children may even have to move away from the places they were born, to escape the precarious rental market.
I know exactly what it is like to feel insecure. At one point I was in a one-room squat with a baby. Paradoxically, the empty place I was staying in belonged to the council’s homeless persons unit, and when it threw me out it still had an obligation to rehouse me as it was making me homeless. A Kafkaesque eternity was spent, with my child, sitting in offices arguing with housing officials at the local council. Eventually I got a council flat. Paradise. Later a scheme was introduced that provided me with the deposit for a shared-ownership property. Thus I ascended the magical ladder. I can’t stand people my age talking about property prices as if they were some kind of expert trader – we were just there at the right time.
Am I a child of Thatcher? Aren’t we all? I often wonder, because the obsession with property that underpins our entire discourse comes from her. Both Margaret Thatcher and Michael Heseltine were heavily invested in John Rawls’s idea that the ownership of private property would redistribute both capital and social assets. This, we can now see, is absolutely not true.
Never mind the subprime crash, the market cannot meet our needs at all. Not enough houses are being built and the ones that are cause unease. Even the Daily Mail reports that new flats in Canary Wharf, studios, the size of tube carriages, will have a monthly rent starting at £2,100 (triple the average price). But worry not, they come with communal areas and wine bars.
Who would cheer this kind of insanity on? The surge in house prices could only be good news if I had no children; or, indeed, if there was no such thing as society and I never had to leave my house and see how bad things really were.
• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist