Nasty, brutish and shorter

Thomas Hobbes’ (only slightly amended) quote seems to be the way our government thinks either that we want – or probably more likely,  it wants us, to live our lives.

The recent figures from the Resolution Foundation on rented housing are a case in point. Outlined in the chart below, they show that the number of rented homes with children in them has trebled since 2003, while the number of children in owner occupation has fallen by almost a quarter in the same period. Both lines indicate a similar direction of travel for the future, if things continue unchanged.

We know that the cost of renting is now very broadly similar to the cost of ownership, where owners, provided they are still paying a mortgage, can perhaps be considered as self-renters as they still require income to pay for shelter. Aside from a (personal) preference for distributism – owning things gives people a stake in society – the real problem with housing is not a housing shortage but an income shortage. The Resolution Foundation chart below suggests that housing rental costs have quite often increased above inflation  – but as we all know wages simply have not. So effectively this indicates that rents are reflecting from time to time some bit of a rising housing market and of course (see below) when you rent you are vulnerable to even arbitrary increases because the alternatives are so financially and personally costly:

Renting is most widespread amoungst the millennial generation, but since their incomes started lower than usual and, with the advent of austerity, have remained flat, many do not have the chance to save for a house deposit. According to a Shelter survey “38 percent have said said [that renting] is stopping them having children.” So in effect the rental market is vital for family life and for the future of the country.

Britain has a very short minimum rental contract period of six months with two months notice, so potentially you and your children could be changing homes every six months. This means you could be looking for two guarantee deposits a year because you will hardly ever get the deposit returned from your previous home  – and it is even less likely to be returned in full –  by the time one is required for your next one. You’re probably going to have a period of tenancy overlap when you’ll be paying rent on two homes. There are then letting agent fees to pay and meanwhile the actual moving is expensive and time consuming – even if you do it yourself you will need to hire a van and if you cannot drive it will cost even more. You need to find a new home that is adequate for your needs but when you have children you will also have to find a home within reach of your childrens’ current schools, which clearly creates additional pressures.

Moving home is one of the most stressful times in anyone’s life. You will probably have to take a day off work, which can be difficult when you are unsure of the exact date till close to the event, never mind having to reassemble the desktop computer or change or move electricity provider.

So when families in the private rented sector can be kept on the move what does this do for local communities? It must make them more difficult to build because a significant part of its membership is playing musical chairs.

These days, therefore, not only are jobs precarious, but so, too, are rented homes. Radical changes are clearly needed but meanwhile, for the future of the country, a quick fix is urgently required.

If  Scotland can manage no fixed term tenancies, and the Swiss who, like the English, are well known for their banking abilities and rents, can manage 20 year tenancies why on earth can’t the UK generally?

The years of government under Conservative direction seem determined to make life difficult for everyone in society and we are now, as a result, all likely to meet an earlier demise. Are the Conservatives still reading Hobbes? Is this the Conservative definition of success?

I think they should tell us.


  1. Geoff -

    Although I’ve always been fully aware that when the “right to buy” was introduced the end game, for the Tories, was to produce the kind of society your article is highlighting. If I expected it why do I find this example so disturbing? I’m not entirely sure but it has a stark impact.

    On our house in France we have a commemorative stone plaque dating from 1739. There was a famine in the area, all of the farms were owned by the church who still took their tax from the starving tenant farmers. Finally and in desperation, 1000’s of people protested outside the cathedral demanding soup, beans and bread. The Bishop did provide some basic food and encouraged local notables to help too after offering this description of the scene unfolding before his eyes “… plupart des habitants de la campagne sont des cadavres ambulants….” Was he unaware or did he simply not care until he could no longer avoid it.

    I understand we are seeing the return of certain illnesses in the UK that we thought to be wholly eradicated, food banks, terminally ill people losing benefits and essential welfare support Wind rush deportations, which can only be racially motivated, Brexit, loss of human rights etc, this, along with many other daily examples of the social fabric being dismantled, engineered with cold calculation and callous disregard for need or the ability to function.
    It is an anathema to me how powerful elected leaders can be so remote, so uncaring and so determined to continue with their plans. It is more frightening though when you realise so many people in the UK think it’s the right thing to do.
    I wonder, do powerful people come to believe their own rhetoric, are they blind to the effect of their actions or do they need to see mass desperation and fear before they are satisfied with their work?

  2. Richard Murphy -


    Thanks for this

    Such contributions are much appreciated


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