“Find out how this young entrepreneur bought their first home aged just 22!” No doubt you too have seen the scores of advice columns proclaiming that in order to get on the property ladder, sacrifices must be made. Stop eating avocado toast with your Starbucks iced lattes while watching Netflix and maybe, just maybe, you will one day own a house.
Of course, we all know the One Simple Trick to homeownership. Buried several paragraphs in will be the admission that the “young entrepreneur” had help from their wealthy family.
The most recent public figure to draw the ire of those of us struggling to rent, let alone buy a house was TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp. In an interview with the Sunday Times last weekend, the Location, Location, Location presenter offered these pearls of wisdom:
“When I bought my first property, going abroad, the EasyJet, coffee, gym, Netflix lifestyle didn’t exist,” she said. “I used to walk to work with a sandwich. And on payday I’d go for a pizza, and to a movie, and buy a lipstick.”
What Allsopp didn’t mention was that when she bought her first property aged 21, the median house price was £51,000 (today it’s £270,000) – and even then, her father Charles Allsopp, 6th Baron Hindlip, had to help her out.
Allsopp’s “wisdom” clearly illustrates that she’s living in a different universe. With energy bills going up by almost £700 and CPI inflation at a 30-year high, it’s laughable to think a £72 Netflix subscription is going to make the cost of buying a house easier. For many people in Britain, even renting is a struggle.
Allsopp’s comments are typical of wealthy people’s investment in the myth that Hard Graft™ got them to where they are – not, say, exploiting their workers or winning the birth lottery. Underlying this is a belief in a meritocracy: the idea that regardless of the social position you’re born into you can rise to the top with hard work. This serves a crucial purpose in maintaining the status quo: if the working class are led to believe that they can simply work their way out of poverty, they’re less likely to direct their energy towards upending the capitalist system responsible for their impoverishment.
A similar sentiment was shared recently by influencer and Pretty Little Thing creative director Molly-Mae Hague, who caught flak for suggesting that “Beyoncé has the same 24 hours in the day that we do”, insinuating that those in poverty were simply not making the best use of their time.
Allsopp and Hague’s blind belief in meritocracy demonstrates the stranglehold Thatcherism retains on Britain, a deeply individualistic ethos that says that if you work harder, you’ll be rewarded with wealth. But as anyone who’s in one will tell you, you can’t budget your way out of a housing crisis, nor will skipping a few iced lattes get you on the property ladder. The myth of meritocracy propagated by wealthy celebrities shatters on contact with reality.
Inequality is an essential feature of capitalism and stands in opposition to the ideas of social mobility and meritocracy that Allsopp upholds. If everyone is able to own their own home, how will landlords be able to extract those sweet, sweet rent payments? Such a state of affairs is only possible in a society where housing – a basic human need – is commodified.
One need only compare Britain to Cuba, where until 2011 it was illegal to buy and sell housing for profit, and where housing remains heavily subsidised by the government. This means that most Cubans own their own homes and don’t pay rent. compared to London alone, where on average 40% of household income goes towards paying rent.
The housing situation in Cuba is far from perfect: the island nation is currently suffering from a housing crisis of its own, with many houses being in disrepair or overcrowded. However, near eradicating homelessness in a country under a six-decade-long US blockade that has cost the construction industry $238,180,000 is an indisputable achievement, one that could only have happened under a socialist reorganisation of housing. As Freidrich Engels wrote: “As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution to the housing question.”
Though we are a long way from achieving what Cuba has, each day small battles are being fought to improve the lives of those suffering the cruelties of commodified housing: renters’ unions such as ACORN, activists like Kwajo Tweneboa and charities such as Crisis and Shelter do invaluable work in protecting those at the sharp end of the housing crisis. What their work illustrates is that a solution cannot be reached until we do bust the myth of “meritocracy” Allsopp perpetuates – indeed until we overthrow capitalism.
While minor aristocrats like Allsopp preach that you can own a home through thriftiness and work ethic, her prosperity gospel isn’t going to save us. The only good thing about her deranged advice is that it has put housing in the headlines, and with it, the idea that a secure home is a right, not a privilege.
Perry Blankson is a project coordinator at the Young Historians Project and part of the editorial working group for the journal History Matters.