To create more millennial homeowners, government should forget ‘Generation X’

Good luck. Image: Getty.

Do you remember when a Freddo bar cost 10 pence? Brexit was in the same league of minority pursuits as Warhammer, you could get a maintenance grant to help with living costs at university, and a young family could save for a typical mortgage deposit in three years. For the young, it all just about worked.

Today a Freddo bar costs three times that amount. A maintenance grant is now a loan. It takes sixteen years longer for the same family to save enough money to secure a mortgage for the same house. Politics seems to move in a direction opposite to the life trajectories that began during and after the 1980s.

While most goods and services have become quicker and more accessible, the time it takes to save, and then pay, for the same products – a house, an education, a chocolate bar – has slowed and been made more difficult with less assistance from the state. Often they are rented instead.

Your granny’s pension shouldn’t be reduced to fund free university tuition. Neither should government adorn people with baubles because they were born after England won the world cup. Yet government can take a more supportive role in young people’s deposit saving; shortening the time it takes to save for a deposit without deforming the structure of the housing market.

Currently there is a black hole in young people’s deposit savings. Recent research from Localis finds that, of those who do not own their home, only 30 per cent of 25-49 year olds and 21 per cent of 18-24s are saving towards a deposit each month. Whether driven by stagnant wage growth, increased consumption or both, these figures show the vast majority of people are building no financial capacity with which to get a mortgage in the future.

Meagre deposit savings is just one issue holding back young people from buying a home. So do stringent lending criteria and unaffordable house prices.


Yet deposit saving is an issue government can immediately address in the upcoming Budget. The pension auto-enrolment scheme could be tweaked to allow employees aged between 18 and 40 to choose for their contributions, their employer’s and the state’s to be directed towards saving for a mortgage deposit instead.

Following the pension scheme’s initial success – over 6.7m people have been automatically enrolled – the number of young people saving for a deposit would increase significantly. And so would the rate at which they accumulate savings: in the Localis report. we calculate a person on a salary of £30,000 would save the median deposit paid by first-time buyers (£22,000) within 10 years of using the scheme. Supporting young people in this way would do much more to lower the rungs of the housing ladder than cuts in stamp duty reported to be announced next month.

In accepting there is a saving problem that ought to be addressed, government can also set the necessary parameters for its response. A recent Council of Mortgage Lenders report found there is only a “slim chance” someone over the age of forty, who does not already, will own their home. Given the tendency of banks to discriminate against lending to people one or two decades from retirement, the sad reality is government can only do so much for them. Deposit saving is a race against time. This is why auto-enrolment for deposit saving should be capped by age.

In a sense, when it comes to supporting home-ownership, the renters of Generation X should be forgotten. Policy effort and resource would be better spent making the private rental sector safer and more comfortable.

The politics are not pleasant, nor the consequences – but to maintain a home-owning democracy, government must choose to support one generation above the other.

Jack Airey is head of research at the think tank Localis.

 
 
 
 

There isn’t a single national housing market – so we need multiple models of local regeneration, too

Rochdale. Image: Getty.

This week’s budget comes ten years after the 2007 financial crisis. The trigger for that crisis was a loss in confidence in mortgages for homes, with banks suddenly recognising the vulnerability of loans on their books.

In the last ten years, the UK’s cities and regions have followed very different paths. This week’s focus on housing affordability is welcome, but it will be a challenge for any chancellor in the coming decade to use national policy to help towns up and down the country. Local housing markets differ drastically. The new crop of city-region mayors are recognising this, as rents in parts of south Greater Manchester are on average double the rents in parts of the north of the city-region.

When it comes to buying a home, politicians are increasingly articulate about the consequences of inequity in our housing system. But we must recognise that, for 9m citizens who live in social rented homes, the prospects of improvements to properties, common areas and grounds are usually tied to wider projects to create new housing within existing estates – sometimes involving complete demolition and rebuilding.

While the Conservative governments of the 1980s shrank the scale of direct investment in building homes for social rent, the Labour governments from the late 1990s used a sustained period of growth in property prices to champion a new model: affordable housing was to be paid for by policies which required contributions to go to housing associations. Effectively, the funding for new affordable housing and refurbished social homes was part of the profit from market housing built next door, on the same turf; a large programme of government investment also brought millions of social rented homes up to a decent standard.

This cross-subsidy model was always flawed. Most fundamentally, it relies on rising property prices – which it is neither desirable nor realistic to expect. Building more social homes became dependent on ratcheting up prices and securing more private profit. In London, we are starting to see that model come apart at the seams.

The inevitable result has been that with long social housing waiting lists and rocketing market prices, new developments have too often ended up as segregated local communities, home to both the richest and the poorest. They may live side by side, but as the RSA concluded earlier this year, investment in the social infrastructure and community development to help neighbours integrate has too often been lacking. Several regeneration schemes that soldiered on through the downturn did so by building more private homes and fewer social rented homes than existed before, or by taking advantage of more generous legal definitions of what counts as ‘affordable housing’ – or both.

A rough guide to how house prices have changed since 2007: each hexagon is a constituency. You can explore the full version at ODI Leeds.

In most of England’s cities, the story does not appear to be heading for the dramatic crescendo high court showdowns that now haunt both developers and communities in the capital. In fact, for most social housing estates in most places outside London, national government should recognise that the whole story looks very different. As austerity measures have tightened budgets for providers of social housing, budgets to refurbish ageing homes are under pressure to do more with less. With an uncertain outlook for property prices, as well as ample brownfield and greenfield housing sites, estates in many northern towns are not a priority for private investors in property development.

In many towns and cities – across the North and the Midlands – the challenges of a poor quality built environment, a poor choice of homes in the local are, and entrenched deprivation remain serious. The recent reclassification of housing associations into the private sector doesn’t make investing in repairs and renewal more profitable. The bespoke ‘housing deals’ announced show that the government is willing to invest directly – but there is anxiety that devolution to combined authorities simply creates another organisation that needs to prioritise building new homes over the renewal of existing neighbourhoods.


In Rochdale, the RSA is working with local mutual housing society RBH to plan for physical, social and economic regeneration at the same time. Importantly, we are making the case – with input from the community of residents themselves – that significant investment in improving employment for residents might itself save the public purse enough money to pay for itself in the long-run.

Lots of services are already effective at helping people find work and start a job. But for those for whom job searching feels out of reach, we are learning from Rochdale Borough Council’s pioneering work that the journey to work can only come from trusting, personal relationships. We hear time and again about the demoralising effect of benefits sanctions and penalties. We are considering an alternative provision of welfare payments, as are other authorities in the UK. Importantly, residents are identifying clearly the particular new challenges created by new forms of modern employment and the type of work available locally: this is a town where JD Sports is hiring 1000 additional workers to fulfil Black Friday orders at its warehouse.

In neighbourhoods like Rochdale’s town centre, both national government and the new devolved city-region administration are considering an approach to neighbourhood change that works for both people and place together. Redevelopment of the built environment is recognised as just one aspect of improving people’s quality of life. Residents themselves will tell you quality jobs and community facilities are their priority. But without a wider range of housing choices and neighbourhood investment locally, success in supporting residents to achieve rising incomes will mean many residents are likely to leave places like Rochdale town centre altogether.

Meaningful change happen won’t happen without patience and trust: between agencies in the public sector, between tenants and landlords, and between citizens and the leaders of cities. This applies as much to our planning system as it does to our complex skills and employment system.

Trust builds slowly and erodes quickly. As with our other projects at the RSA, we are convinced that listening and engaging citizens will improve policy-making. Most of those involved in regeneration know this better than anyone. But at the national level we need to recognise that, just as the labour market and the housing market vary dramatically from place to place, there isn’t a single national story which represents how communities feel about local regeneration.

Jonathan Schifferes is interim Director, Public Services and Communities, at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).