It’s true that many young people, especially those referred to as ’ millennials’, say that don’t want to own their own homes – surveys put this as high as a third. Young people give a range of responses from ‘I don’t want to be ‘tied down’ to ‘I’m thinking of going off travelling’. This is a significant and longer-term trend (the proportion of adults aged 25-34 owning a home falling from 55% in 1996 to 34% in 2016).
The social commentator David Goodhart refers to an the emergence of an increasingly rootless, generally highly educated ‘anywhere’ generation – while some media outlets fantasise about young freelancers ‘working from home’ on laptops in exotic places. But even if some young people are breaking many of the habits associated with their parents, the growth of ‘generation rent’ can’t be divorced from issues of affordability and the breakdown of traditional routes into the labour market.
Young people are taking longer to leave their family home due to extended stays in education. ONS statistics show the number of 20–34-year-olds living with their parents has risen by one-third since the mid-1990s. Today, intensified by the pandemic, over a quarter (28%) of this age group live with a parent. The so-called “boomerang” phenomenon – young adults returning to their parents’ home until well into their 20s or early 30s – is also a permanent feature of UK society. It’s more pronounced amongst men than women.
The growing cost of housing has fuelled these trends. Renting privately consumed 9% of average incomes in 1961, rising to 13% in 2016. The ONS considers the average person or household in the UK could expect to spend 23% of their pay on rent. It considers that spending anything over 30% is not considered “affordable”, but data shows over 40% of under 30s now in this category, with big rises since last year.
These figures exclude students. The average amount students pay for rent in the UK is £148 per week – which works out at around £641 per month. As you may expect, the universities with students paying the most in rent are based in London – with an average rent of £238 per week at one university. According to the Financial Times (29/08), first-year undergraduates at several universities were informed this month that they would have to find their own rooms owing to the lack of space in halls, or offered accommodation miles way.
The accommodation crunch comes as rental markets are exceptionally tight in UK cities and made worse last year when some universities accepted far more students than they had planned. There are also concerns about the continued availability of cheaper private sector accommodation with landlords citing increased cost of living issues and changes to tax relief on ‘buy to let’ properties as reasons for leaving the market.
Meanwhile, the average annual rent for purpose-built student accommodation in the UK reached £7,374 in 2021/22, a 4.4% increase on last year and 16% up on pre-Covid levels (2018/19). Since 2011/12, the NUS reports average rents have increased by 61%. Another report calculates that 70% of the beds surveyed are operated by private halls providers. On the back of soaring energy bills, these will hike up prices further?