I don’t normally glean insights for my personal finance columns from police dramas on TV, honest. Recently, though, I caught up with series one of Line of Duty.
One of the plotlines explored the middle-class money dilemma of our time: how much a good parent should shell out for their kids.
A decent officer was corrupted, not through drink, drugs or gambling, but because he needed money for his daughters’ ruinous private school fees.
This is not the kind of thing you can imagine happening to DCI Gene Hunt or Dirty Harry.
But then, back in the Life on Mars 1970s, parenting wasn’t even a verb, let alone a competitive sport. School fees were far more affordable and university education was fee-free.
There was certainly no such thing as BoMaD, or the Bank of Mum and Dad. If there had been, we’d have probably thought it was a music festival, or an up-and-coming district of New York.
It was also still possible then for young adults to get on the housing ladder by saving their own deposit – an outlandish idea now.
As a consequence, BoMaD is probably the fastest expanding financial operation in the UK, and is now on a par with the ninth biggest mortgage lender.
Helping the kids onto the housing ladder is an obsession with many 40-and-50-something parents.
I hear it all the time in my circle. One mother-of-two late teenage children tells me she and all her chums are planning to sell their family homes and move into smaller properties to free up money to give to their offspring.
Another friend, in his late 60s, is still working full-time, partly so he can go on helping one of his kids with his mortgage payments. The ‘child’ in question is approaching 40.
No wonder, then, that BoMaD will this year lend more than £6.5 million, according to research by insurance company Legal & General.
It’s a natural human impulse to want to support your kids. But when the typical amount comes in at up to £30,000 per transaction in some parts of the country, it requires serious thought.
Loan or gift? It needs to be crystal clear. Another option might be taking a stake in a property alongside a family member. It could be a profitable way to invest but housing is an illiquid asset so you might not be able to get your money out quickly if you need it.
Do you want some control over or use of the property? If so, best spell it out. One young friend of mine accepted help from her elderly, Northern-based father to buy a London flat, only to be irked by his frequent stays in the spare room. He feels entitled to come as often as he likes, given the huge sum he handed over. She feels he treats her apartment as his pied-à-terre, and doesn’t respect the fact it’s her home. Awkward.
BoMaD is a deeply divisive and discriminatory institution. It’s obvious that it will widen the chasm between families which have assets and wealth and those less fortunate.
What is less immediately apparent is that it has the potential to create division within families too.
The L&G research showed that only 40 per cent of BoMaD parents provide equal support to their kids – probably because they can’t afford up to £30,000 for each.
So if you can’t help them all, is it better to help one, or none?
And what constitutes ‘equal’ support anyway? Giving £30,000 each to two children might seem fair, but if one is buying in a lower cost city such as Belfast and the other in London, it would result in unequal outcomes.
Considering the forces that can be unleashed by sibling rivalry, these are dangerous waters for parents.
Where is the money coming from? Unless you’re truly stashed, then raiding your pension or savings to help the kids can affect your own long term standard of living.
At 50-something, you might well be at your earnings peak, but for how long? What will it be like if you still have to work in 20 years time, because you’ve handed a huge chunk of assets to your children? That’s supposing anyone will even employ you.
It’s not doing your family any favours if you compromise your own financial security and become a worry or a burden on them in the future.
On the plus side, BoMaD is clear evidence of how generous parents are. The fact they are giving money on this scale gives the lie to the offensive myth that baby boomers are the selfish generation.
But it isn’t as simple as that. It’s not healthy, either at an individual level or for society as a whole, for adult children to be financially dependent into their fourth and fifth decades.
Those who don’t have the money to help may see their children slide into downward social mobility. Those who can afford it are the lucky ones, but BoMaD is an emotional and financial minefield.
It’s also a symptom of a deeply dysfunctional housing market. Affluent older people are asset-stripping themselves so their children can buy an overpriced property from other affluent older people. Bonkers, no?
Ruth Sunderland is City Features Editor of the Daily Mail