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Voices: NatWest’s boss thinks ‘it’s not that hard to buy a home’ – tell that to Gen Z and millennials like me

I was born in 1990, which means that my childhood years were spent preparing me for a certain type of future in which I’d rent while saving for a deposit, before ultimately buying my own home. But then the second I became old enough to drink, that future exploded.

The 2008 financial crash, which tanked the housing market and made the prospect of home ownership for my generation about as likely as the prospect of owning a magic sword, was our parents’ coming-of-age gift to us. Personally, I would have preferred Amazon vouchers.

Yet despite having more than 15 years to process the fallout of the crisis and the resulting great recession, some people still struggle to understand why people my age are bouncing around from rental property to rental property, instead of getting on the housing ladder.

It would be bad enough even if those people weren’t in charge of our key financial institutions, but NatWest boss Howard Davies, who this morning claimed that it’s “not that difficult” to buy a house, has no excuse.

Davies made the claim to presenter Amol Rajan on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, prompting a seemingly flabberghasted Rajan to respond: “To buy a house? In this country? Are we living in the same country, or are you reporting from overseas?” Davies countered: "You have to save and that is the way it always used to be."

For reference, the typical UK house price as of December 2023 was £287,105, and the average UK salary hovers somewhere around the £35,000 mark. That house price is going to rise sharply if you want to live anywhere near a job that will pay you a decent wage, and that salary is going to dip drastically the closer you get to affordable housing, with neither trade-off being particularly equal.

Likewise, the way the average UK salary is calculated means that there are still huge swathes of the population for whom £35,000 is considered aspirational. From a purely anecdotal perspective, most people I know would consider somebody on £35,000 a year to be very well off indeed (and most people I know are 30-something university graduates).

All of this is without even taking into consideration the state of crisis this country currently finds itself in, causing the cost of day-to-day living to skyrocket and putting people in a constant state of financial anxiety.

“Saving more” to get on the property ladder, as per Davies’s recommendation, assumes you have anything to save in the first place – when the stark truth is that any nest egg we might manage to accrue is usually gobbled up immediately by unexpected bills, greedy landlords or unfettered price gouging on essential services.

It staggers me that key players in business and finance are so far removed from reality. It would be like a head chef who doesn’t understand the concept of food, or a health secretary that doesn’t understand the concept of viral transmission during a pandemic... oh. It’s a good thing these are just hypothetical scenarios, isn’t it?

Then there’s the vast sums of money involved in the act of buying a house in the first place. To me, the idea of spending close to £300,000 on a house is almost funny, because it’s so unobtainable. Once you pass the £100,000 mark, we may as well be talking about Monopoly.

And for members of Gen Z or millennials like me, even if we do manage to make it on to the first rung of that greasy housing ladder, we can’t expect to climb much further – because we’re going to spend the rest of our lives paying off the mortgage.

The UK doesn’t even have good job security. Many of us have to move cities, simply to keep up with the industry.

Davies is in good company, though. Perhaps he can bemoan “lazy” millennials who aren’t saving up hard enough with Huw Pill, the Bank of England economist who recently proclaimed that people need to “accept being poor”; or ex-health minister Edwina Currie, who said this week that junior doctors should focus more on “the smiles of their patients” than the “money in their pay packet”. Last time I checked, you couldn’t pay for supermarket food with a smile.

The problem with comments like these is that it gives the impression that the UK’s very real economic woes are a minor inconvenience, perpetuated by young people “not working hard enough”, instead of recognising it for what it is: the defining crisis of the 21st century.

Like most people my age, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never own a house – and if I do, it won’t be on anything like favourable terms. The same is true for most of my contemporaries.

In that sense, perhaps Davies is right. Buying a house in this country isn’t “difficult” – it’s impossible.