The current BBC series about the career of Margaret Thatcher reminded me of Norman Tebbit’s famous phrase describing how his father “got on his bike” and looked for work when he was unemployed in the 1930s.
The notion of being prepared to move from one’s home to get a job is as old as the hills, and certainly pre-dates Mr Tebbit’s dad. It is also something that I, like countless others, have done at some point in our working lives.
The key factor in moving for employment (besides the availability of paid work) is the affordability of accommodation in the place one moves to. When I moved to London from the north of England in the early 1980s, accommodation was affordable, so the move made sense. No, however, with sky high rents and a mortgage market that young people cannot access without family help, the situation has changed fundamentally.
The Resolution Foundation think tank has published new findings which show that job mobility from small towns to the big cities, in which greater employment opportunities exist, has fallen off very sharply in recent years.
There has been a 40% drop-off in the number of people aged 25-34 starting a new job and moving from home in the last year, compared with twenty years ago.
The UK’s calamitous housing situation means that the financial gains of getting a better paid job are obliterated by the cost of renting in most of our big cities. In turn, this causes a sharp decline in social mobility, with a host of disastrous consequences.
The Affordable Housing Commission now says that 43% of renters – the vast majority of whom are young people – now face affordability problems, while a staggering 5.5 million renters are trapped in the system because they cannot afford a home of their own.
We cannot hope to maintain prosperity in our economy if our young people cannot move to where the jobs are. It is a simple proposition that social mobility has to be affordable, and bring measurable benefits. Somehow we have got ourselves in a position in which young people are stuck in places where they cannot get jobs, so jobs remain unfilled. This in turn distorts the overall picture of health of our economy by making it appear that there is an excess of jobs over the demand for jobs.
For twenty and thirty year olds, remaining at home adds massive pressures to most families, who had planned for a future free of the costs and other impositions of having adult children at home. It frustrates the plans of older parents, and it thwarts the ambitions of their children. The economic costs of this are calculable but the social costs are much harder to measure.
Landlords are bound to take advantage of their position and charge higher rents when the supply of suitable accommodation is at a premium and the mortgage market is shut to most renters. Until we find a way of providing affordable accommodation for young people in the places where there is the biggest supply of jobs, this will not change.
It should be a national priority to encourage long term investment in the provision of affordable accommodation, as not doing so is proving to be a road to nowhere.