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.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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