The children of the rich will be set up for life, but what will the rest of us do if the only way to afford a home is to rely on the death of grandparents or parents?
Gavin Barwell hasn’t been housing minister for very long at all, but has already elicited a stinging rebuke from his boss at No 10. Speaking at a Conservative conference fringe, Barwell pointed out that his parents had decided to disinherit him and instead leave their wealth to his children. When asked if he thought others should follow suit, he replied in the affirmative, though tempered that he didn’t want to live in a country where it was necessary.
Theresa May’s staff are perhaps a little cannier than Barwell, and seeing the headlines that followed, No 10 was quick to point out that Tory policy was building enough houses to meet need, not relying on inheritance.
Given the high cost of renting and exorbitant house prices, saving for a deposit is doubly difficult: it follows that the only hope many people have is a financial windfall that awkwardly coincides with a family death. But the statistics show that Barwell’s solution is unworkable for the majority of people. The Office for National Statistics showed 3.6% of people surveyed had received an inheritance in the previous two years – half had inherited under £10,000 and fewer than one in five had inherited property.
The majority of people won’t be able to purchase homes upon the death of their grandparents, or even their parents: my paternal grandparents passed away in my teens, followed by my father in my twenties. Neither bereavement resulted in financial gain, only grief. Most friends who have received an inheritance have been gifted enough to clear their lingering student overdrafts, not enough to get on the housing ladder. It’s here you see inequality in action: for all the talk of inter-generational inequality, inheritance is a way of bolstering your family’s position through the ages: if your parents are extremely wealthy you’ll live a good life while they’re here, then take on their assets.
But the Conservatives clearly don’t value all inheritances, for all their noise about the evils of inheritance tax, a tithe on extreme wealth that in practice afflicts barely anyone. As part of the Housing and Planning Act they called for the end of lifetime tenancies in social housing. This is a clear attack on the lives of working-class people, denying families the opportunity to put down roots and treat a council house as it should be: a home.
When you return to a grandparent’s house or a former family home, the walls are steeped in memories: the architecture is burned into your muscle memory. It’s why people fight to keep homes they’ve lived in for decades, and why people leave houses rather than simply capital to family members. Removing the lifetime tenancies essentially disregards the well being and wishes of social housing tenants and signals that social housing is a stopgap for the destitute, and the private rented sector is to be the new normal.
Most of my family won’t have homes to pass on to their children, because they live in social housing – but their children will be in an even worse position, forced into the private rented sector, unable to buy a home and excluded from social housing. For all their talk of the squeezed middle, the Conservatives are doing their utmost in housing to cleave the population into haves and have-nots: the children of the rich will be all right no matter what happens.
Their asset-rich parents may have to shave off a bit of that wealth to help them, but for them, a “helping hand” or wad of cash is enough to sign them up for monthly mortgage payments and a two-bed flat with an Ikea sofa. But the children of the average family have no recourse to enough spare cash for a deposit, rents too high to permit saving, and more chance of getting Jeremy Clarkson to join Greenpeace than ever moving into council housing.