Taberner House-02

I’m about to be a new Dad and my child will live in poverty.

My partner and I are having a baby. Rejoice!

Except, ah, oh dear, we rent… Bringing a child into the world, this fantastic kaleidoscope of life and laughter and culture, what a fantastic thing to do. But to bring a child into the private rented sector?! What a disturbed, even cruel act.

My child will live in poverty.

That is, below 60% of the median ‘after housing costs’ income for a three person household.

Most fascinatingly, our ‘before housing costs’ income resides in the median quintile. The use of homes as an asset class is literally turning a potentially middle class family into a poverty-stricken one. Now imagine how bad it is for those who earn less!

We hope that once the baby arrives we’ll be able claim some housing benefit and that it buoys our heads above the breadline, keeping our fingers crossed that a dollop of the ever-increasing landlord subsidy doesn’t enrage our ‘NO DSS’ American right-libertarian landlord..

Our decline in income is set to continue.

Wage growth is likely to fail to keep up with rent rises.

Across the UK rents are projected to rise 16% between 2014 and 2018, rising 17% in non-central London. With George Osborne already proudly stating he will scrap housing benefit for 18-21 year olds, one wonders what will be deemed fair game after the general election as the next parliament – of whichever hue – struggles to bring down the deficit.

Longer term? With little appetite for proper rent controls and a parliament that has more landlords than women – and a housebuilding sector quite happy with its high returns for few completions – it doesn’t look promising for renters.

At least the child will not be alone… or will they?

Research suggests that by 2040 six million private renters will be living in poverty. You have to wonder whether people will still be having children in such conditions, or if we’re reaching a Children of Men scenario via a handful of landlords’ French Riviera holidays.

As parents we’ll commute longer distances, spending less time at home.

The UK’s growing commuting distances is a general issue already, but the problem is particularly pronounced for a population as transient as renters.

The opportunity to profit out of people’s understandable desire live near a commute- (unpaid labour-) shortening transport infrastructure is already well established as a driver of gentrification. See for example the property sector’s quite public pants-wetting over Crossrail.

This is a market-based struggle those of us in poverty simply aren’t going to win. Further out we go, with whatever housing savings we might make neatly swallowed up by the accelerating cost of our preposterously bad privatised railway network effectively exploiting our reliance on a London-centric job market.

The child will move regularly.

Possibly annually! And not through the volition of the parents.

There is a wealth of studies suggesting there are serious negative psychological impacts on the regular moving of children. Last year the University of Warwick found kids aged 12 who have moved house frequently have an increased likelihood of “psychotic-like symptoms” leading to mental health problems in adulthood.

Such findings make even Labour’s rather timid Private Rented Sector proposals look attractive since they include three year tenancies.

And the child will be blamed for all this the moment they put on a nice shirt.

‘Cos rent rises and gentrification and all that is caused by hipsters, yeah?

All this leaves us wondering if we’re doing the right thing.

We’re both already feeling guilty about the precarious, transient, financially-tight situation we’re bringing the little one into. But when something as basic as procreation is taking second billing to an upwards wealth transfer, something is deeply wrong.

Thankfully housing activism is growing, and it seems to be ascending to a deserved prominence amongst the Zeitgeist: from the excellent headline-grabbing mayor-worrying work of the Focus E15 Mothers to private tenants groups such as South London Renters, there is something happening, as yet still too small but for once not devoid of hope.

I hope to see you all at a range of meetings or actions. Any day now I’ll be one of the ones there with a pushchair.

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Published 18th February 2015

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