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Priced out of being alive: young renters in Britain

  • Opinion

   Written by Ianto Griffin, BA in Music and Anthropology 

It’s disabusing us of the crazy notion that we have a right to our youth, and this is seriously fucking dangerous.

I’m sitting, holding my keys in my hand, they are a comfort that I haven’t felt in weeks. A blue fob, a traditional-looking bronze, a silver ridged one. The satisfying clink, the added weight to my keychain, which has been so disturbingly light: I could almost cry at how affected I am by these three small objects. The relief that they’re here, in my hand, that they open the door to my flat, where I live. It’s such an unbearably simple thing to be relieved about.  

That relief also has considerable limits. It’s hard to put a price on security, but I’m going to anyway. 


According to Shelter’s criteria for ‘affordability’ – which is that yearly rent should be no more than 35% of household income – our situation is unaffordable. Our rent is around 62% of what we ‘earn’ as students, of what our governments give us to survive. Added to this, energy bills for the next year are set to average at £3,549, decreasing our leftover earnings to 32%. That leaves roughly twenty grand, for four people, for twelve months, less than half of what calculates as our average living expenses. Price caps on bills favour families and businesses – the classic subjects of Tory sympathy – and there are no caps on rent. (!!!!?????) 

This ‘crisis’ is robbing us, young people, of life. All throughout this summer, a friend of mine spent the first three waking hours of every day on Spare Room. She wouldn’t eat, drink or go to the bathroom until she’d answered every new ad. She wasn’t alone. The frenzy for housing has become all-consuming; it’s another brick in the wall of pathological anxiety being built around the under-35s, an anxiety which makes ‘normality’ unliveable.  

It’s disabusing us of the crazy notion that we have a right to our youth, and this is seriously fucking dangerous. Youth is about questioning, criticising, shouting down authority – even if you’re wrong. It’s about being pig-headed and indignant, and refusing to just accept what you’re told. It’s about having fun and being frivolous. I realise this is basically a punk analysis of what youth should be, and many will disagree with it on moral, cultural, religious, and other grounds, but bear with me.  

Punk came to popularity under Margaret Thatcher for a reason, and that reason was the economic oppression of the working class. A quick round-up of her greatest hits: 

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  • Rapid de-industrialisation of the British economy, starting in 1979,.  
  • Introducing ‘Right-to-buy’ in 1980,, radically undermining the provision of affordable social housing in the UK.  
  • Poll or Council Tax, unveiled in 1990. This changed the way tax on housing was calculated from the market value of the property to the number of people living there.  
  • And, a little bonus, halting the provision of  free milk to primary school children in 1971 when she was Education Secretary.  

Is it so surprising that a disaffected youth turned to a subculture which championed their right to be pissed off? Well, the latest Tory administrations, driven by fanatic, draconian Conservativism under Johnson and now Truss, are facilitating the growth of a new disaffected youth. In the UK in 2021, the Private Rented Sector was estimated to be worth £1.338 trillion ( thanks to the Buy-to-Let mortgage, introduced in 1996 under New Labour.  In the UK in 2022, I and several close friends have faced homelessness, been homeless. This was in large part thanks to the precedent set by policy like the standardisation of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy – which gives landlords the power to evict without a reason – in 1997. Thatcherism isn’t rearing its disgusting head (although Johnson and Truss have given it a lovely makeover), it never left.  

What do we do then? It’s easy to feel helpless when you find yourself offering more than you can afford in rent, to a landlord you’ve never even spoken to, mediated by an estate agent who openly admits that they’d rather be somewhere else (yes, that has happened to me). But a disaffected youth also has great potential to be a militant one. We need to be punk about it; we need to stand up against capitalism, conformity, and blind consumerism. Our citizenship is worth more than our ‘contribution’ to society, and we need to make the institutions above us pay. We need to shout, we need to swear, we need to steal, we need to piss off the politicians, we need to squat every fucking building from Croydon to Barnet, Uxbridge to Upminster.  

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More than this though, we need to get organised. Our power may be in our passion, but without direction it’s just going to be misspent. We need a movement that is both huge and local, that spans and connects communities. So join communities, make them. Get involved in one of the organisations at SOAS – Justice 4 Workers, SOAS Solidarity, London Strike Solidarity (for details on any of these, hit me up via my student email). Find out what’s happening around where you live – how are people already resisting? Build networks with your mates, go to protests together, read radical literature together. Try to diversify your networks – only by working intersectionally can we create change that is more than just reformist. Be in communion with the older generations, many of them face far greater insecurity than we do – they may be in need of help, they may have untold wisdom to help guide our struggle.  

Most of all, don’t lose hope in y/our own situation. Hopelessness is defeat, and community is hope.  

La lucha continúa. 


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