Theresa May’s main response to collapsing levels of homeownership among young people has been to tell the generation of permo-renters not to worry – that they’re “not any less of a person” for renting. It seems our PM believes that British obsession with home ownership, as summed up by the old adage, “An Englishman’s home is his castle”, can be flipped through a few calming words.
But painting Britain’s obsession with home ownership as some kind of weird kink completely ignores its practical benefits – as a refuge away from our vicious rental market. Across the UK, first time-buyers are on average £900 better off per year than renters; in London, this jumps to £2,191 a year. Over a mortgage term of 30 years this would leave buyers in London £66,000 better off than those who had to rent over this same period, and that’s before you get to any appreciation in house prices they benefit from.
Home ownership doesn’t just benefit the bank balance each year: it also provides security for the future. With pension provision looking increasingly wobbly, from Carrillion and BHS to university staff, a secure income post retirement is far from certain. A valuable asset such as property can offer protection when you want to finally put your feet up.
So the desire to buy over rent is ultimately practical, rather than social – and if Theresa May wants to make the country comfortable with declining home ownership, then this is where she should start. Looking to Europe isn’t the most fashionable thing to do at the moment, but there’s a lot to be learnt from our mainland neighbours in terms of tenant protection.