Across the UK, there was some sensationalism around the fact that 14% of young people still live at home. As ever, when there’s moaning and statistical sensationalising to be done, the Northern Irish began to excel themselves – apparently the figure here is the highest in the UK. (Of course, no one bothered to mention the Northern Irish figure is more or less in line with the Republic; or indeed with, say, Austria; and never mind the fact it’s half Portugal’s…)
What struck me was the assumption that this was a bad thing – i.e. that young people somehow shouldn’t be living at home. I asked several correspondents, genuinely, to explain to me why this was. I never got a rational response (indeed one even laughably suggested that “independent living” is a “right”…)
Let us try again to ask ourselves what the fundamentals of our recent financial crisis and mega-recession were: too much debt and, well, that’s pretty much it. The government went into too much debt because it spent too much; people went into too much debt because they spent too much, most obviously on property. Actually, even businesses were at it: from 2000-2009, bank lending in the UK to businesses for R&D, export development, staff and so on actually declined; yet bank lending in the UK to businesses to buy premises (property) increased nearly fivefold. Does this not just defy belief?
The burden of this debt will, of course, be carried by our young people. They will have to pay it off. There is widespread acceptance that they will be the first generation since the War to be poorer than their parents were. Those are the facts of the outcome of our crazed spending binge – spending by government, spending by individuals, spending by businesses. The only thing we can hope to do is not make it any worse.
So here is what I would be doing: investing in education and skills; encouraging entrepreneurship; focusing on export (and on general internationalisation). That’s how we create the wealth to get out of the mess we’re in.
And here is what I wouldn’t be doing: investing in building over lots more of our countryside when it’s not necessary; encouraging the already hard-pressed tax payer to pay for people to live on their own when they don’t have to; focusing on economic growth through asset bubbles. That’s what got us into the whole mess.
Now, you tell me why a 23-year-old should spend what little money he/she is able to earn in the current climate on rent in a dingy property you yourself would never go near!
And now, you tell me why it is a problem for a 23-year-old to opt to stay at home for a few more years to save up money for further training, or to set up his/her own business, or even to go travelling the world…