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TOM UTLEY: Why bribing children to fly the nest is a good thing

TOM UTLEY: Bribing children like my lad with £200 to fly the nest? So long as he comes back in my dotage!

They are sensitive creatures, the young, and I must tread very carefully to avoid giving offence to our one remaining resident son. So let me say at once that I don’t blame him a bit for the fact he still lives with his parents at the ripe old age of 28.

It is possible, I suppose, that on his wages as a teaching assistant he could just about afford to rent a damp cupboard or a dog kennel in one of the least salubrious parts of the capital.

But so astronomical are the rents in London these days (as they are, increasingly, elsewhere in the country) that if he did find a place to call his own, he would have barely enough left over for food, let alone the rest of the bills.

They are sensitive creatures, the young, and I must tread very carefully to avoid giving offence to our one remaining resident son. So let me say at once that I don’t blame him a bit for the fact he still lives with his parents at the ripe old age of 28, picture posed by models

It is certainly true that it was very much easier in my youth. Without so much as a penny from the bank of Mum and Dad, I was able to leave the family nest immediately after university, never to return to my parents except for the occasional — all right, the frequent —free meal.

In our lad’s defence, I must also admit that it’s often a pleasure to have him around. True, it never fails to annoy me that he’s a veritable genius at Only Connect, the toughest quiz show on TV, working out five or six answers per episode while I struggle to get one right. I’m a competitive brute, you understand. 

More from Tom Utley for the Daily Mail…

But he cooks a delicious curry, brews the occasional cup of tea for his ageing parents — and, once in a while, he makes himself useful by taking the dog for a walk. He has even been known to put out the bins on a Wednesday evening.

Oh, and unlike the most Corbynist of his brothers (no names, no pack drill), our youngest rebukes me only rarely for my antediluvian views on such matters as Brexit (I’m all for it), the madness of identity politics and the Government’s idiotic plans to drive us all into penury for the sake of appearing green.

All in all, then, he’s a fine fellow, and I’m as devoted to him as a father could be (as I am to the other three, I hasten to say — even the Corbynista).

But much as I love the whole lot of them, I have to say that I’ve relished the precious few times in the past when, for one reason or another, all four of them were off the premises and Mrs U and I had the house to ourselves.

During those brief weeks, or sometimes months, there was no competition for my favourite armchair, no lectures about my politics, no feelings of guilt when I wanted to watch a costume drama while a Fulham or Liverpool match was showing on another channel.

So I took a special interest in this week’s news that the prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, plans to offer Spaniards aged 18-35 a monthly bonus of 250 euros (about £212) in order to help them leave their family homes.

There can be no doubting the scale of the problem he is trying to address. For if Britain’s young have trouble affording homes to call their own, their woes are nothing beside those of their contemporaries in Spain.

There the pandemic has brought tourism to its knees, exacerbating difficulties caused by the single European currency. Youth unemployment is running at a terrifying 33 per cent — almost three times higher than in the UK.

Among those young Spaniards lucky enough to have jobs (most of them temporary), average earnings are just £820 a month. In many big cities, that’s less than the monthly rent for even the most modest flat.

No wonder that typical Spaniards don’t leave their parents’ homes until they are 30 — four years older than the European average — while the proportion of those aged 16-29 who have fled the family nest has been dropping steadily, from 26 per cent in 2007 to a mere 16 per cent last year. 

But is Senor Sánchez’s well-meaning scheme really the answer? All I can say is that I wish I could believe it. But I don’t.

Under his proposals, which also include a cap on the rents that can be charged by companies owning more than ten properties in areas of high demand, the bonus would be passed on by Spain’s autonomous regional authorities to under-35s who earn less than 23,725 euros (£20,130) a year.

If you ask me, this makes not the slightest economic sense. (But then who can expect economic wisdom from a prime minister who leads his country’s Socialist Workers’ Party?)

I fear that the only realistic solution to Britain’s housing crisis lies in increasing the supply of homes available to rent or buy in the areas where they’re wanted

For one thing, the inevitable effect of doling out cash for housing — as we’ve discovered in Britain with the Help to Buy scheme — is simply to push prices even further out of reach of all but the lucky few who have been able to benefit from it (including some who already own at least one home). Meanwhile, Mr Sánchez’s proposed rental cap can only reduce the number of homes available for rent, thereby exacerbating the shortage, since it will discourage big companies from entering the market.

Indeed, rent restrictions have proved counter-productive in pretty well every country where they’ve been tried.

No, I fear that the only realistic solution to Britain’s housing crisis lies in increasing the supply of homes available to rent or buy in the areas where they’re wanted. This means cutting the red tape that discourages so many would-be landlords from letting out properties that now stand empty.

And yes, though it grieves me to say this, I believe it will also mean braving the wrath of Nimbys who oppose any suggestion of relaxing planning restrictions in some of the country’s most sought-after areas.

For though Boris may dream aloud, in his boosterish way, about building countless new homes on brownfield sites — which are often contaminated by chemical waste — the uncomfortable truth remains that it’s very much cheaper and easier to build them on virgin land, where the fields are green. 

No, as politicians continue to shy away from easing the restraints on building, I fear it will be a long while yet before young(ish) people like my son enjoy anything like the opportunities my own generation had for setting up on our own.

Mind you, I’m not all that sorry for my boy. For eager though he may be to flee the nest, even he must admit there are certain advantages to be had from living with Mum and Dad.

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez has offered adult children aged between 18 and 35 a monthly bonus of £212 if they leave the family home

I fear that he and others like him may be in for quite a shock when they finally do leave home. For they will discover that fridges and the cereal cupboard no longer fill up automatically after they’ve raided them, sheets don’t wash and iron themselves, televisions need licences and gas, electricity, Netflix, Spotify and the rest must all be paid for, on top of the rent.

To be fair, however, I can also envisage a time when I may miss him deeply. For though the young are hardest hit by the housing shortage, my own generation has its own crisis looming.

I’m thinking of the appalling state of Britain’s social care system — and this week’s warning by the Health Secretary that if we do need support, we should turn to ‘family first’ before asking the state for help.

As I fast approach my dotage, I can all too easily see a dawn, in the not too distant future, when my wife and I would give almost anything to have an able-bodied family member on the premises, willing to cook up a curry, brew a cuppa and put out the bins.

Knowing my luck, that morning will come on the very day after he’s finally waved us goodbye.

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