I’m a 21 st
I have an Oxbridge degree, I’m in a good job, I earn well over the national average income of £26,500 (according to the Office for National Statistics) – yet I cannot afford to rent even a one-bed flat in London, where I work. After four years of sharing with strangers in haphazard arrangements which inevitably turned sour, I moved into a small flat in the south of the city. But, to my shame, I’m being bailed out to the tune of £700 a month by my retired parents. Outside London, this sum would be enough for a decent-sized house. Here, it is slightly under half the rent for a 50 sq.m flat – and that’s before bills and council tax.
Desperate to stop this haemorrhaging of nearly £18,000 a year (not far off the salary of an essential worker such as a firefighter) yet not willing to pay £800-900 a month to house-share in my thirties like a student, I decided to investigate the affordable housing scheme promoted by the Government on First Steps. Avoiding the flats stipulating a minimum household salary of £70,000 (on a website for 'low and modest income' Londoners), I entered my details into the online calculator and saw that, with a substantial deposit, it would be possible to get my nails into a 40 percent share (worth £176,000) of a one-bed flat, and rent the remainder. That’s what the calculator said.
But it’s not what the (officially recommended) mortgage people said. It turns out that the shared ownership scheme, as well as mortgage lending, is biased towards couples, so a single person like myself is at a massive disadvantage. While the Bank of Mum and Dad (mostly Dad, as the former breadwinner) can help with the deposit, this does not overcome the 'problem' of my salary; though much higher than the national average, it does not match the earnings of a couple. This leaves me railing at two things: being single and being unable to get a flat. And when I think about it like this, it raises my feminist hackles. To cut my dependency on Dad, I’d need to find a partner to share either the rent or a mortgage (both, for a shared ownership property).
It’s the same struggle for single men, you say. Not exactly. Even though the gender pay gap has decreased over time, last year it was still 9.4 percent for full-time employees, as reported by the ONS. Over the last decade, I’ve pushed and shoved my way up the career ladder, taken new jobs, received promotions and pay rises and have got myself to a pretty good place; but it’s still not enough to get on, let alone up, the housing ladder in London. It’s not even enough to rent a flat unassisted. At this point, I’m beginning to think there’s nothing more I can do except turn from working woman to working girl.
Maybe you don’t feel too sorry for the Oxbridge grad who discovered the world isn’t the oyster they said it would be, but think about the wider implications. If someone like me, with a top-class education, a good job, a higher-than-average salary and well-to-do parents who are willing to help, cannot either rent like a grown-up or buy even a share of a property, then what hope is there for others?
If London house prices continue to soar (mayoral candidates, take note), we could see professional women like me joining the 'seeking arrangement' websites already used by students who are struggling to fund their education. My generation got away with tuition fees of just £3,000 a year, unlike £9,000 today, so how much more desperate will things be by the time this group finishes its hard-earned education and tries to enter the housing market? Unless things change, we will be driving generations of women to invest not in bricks and mortar, but in heels and a mini skirt.
Joanne Perry is a writer and editor who has lived and worked in London since 2011