THE BLOG

Why Our National Obsession With Home Ownership Has to End

02/08/2013 16:49 BST | Updated 01/10/2013 10:12 BST

If you're amongst the 36% of Brits who rent your home, chances are you're wondering how on earth you'll ever be able to get on the property ladder. The simple answer is you may not.

Aspiring to own is as much a part of our national DNA as tea, obsessing about the weather or losing on penalties. It's ingrained in our cultural psyche as a right rather than a hope but, with such a massive portion of the population renting and ownership in decline, isn't it time we learned to think differently?

In vast swathes of continental Europe people happily rent for decades and don't feel as though they're hard done by - in fact most of them find our obsession with owning our homes rather odd. Part of our problem in the UK is that, as more and more of us discover we're unlikely to be comfortably off when we retire, property has become a substitute for pensions. We invest in bricks and mortar as our future. Our view of renting as 'dead money' is something we've had ingrained into us for decades and will be hard to shift.

What do we mean by 'home ownership' anyway though? It's not as simple as it sounds. If you own a leasehold property you're not a homeowner - you've just bought the long term right to live in the property in question and will eventually sell that right on. It's not your property. How about if you have an interest-only mortgage? Then you're effectively renting from your mortgage provider. Very few of us really own our homes.

Fewer still are likely to. Soaring living costs mean it's a struggle for many renting households just to keep their heads above water each month, let alone have enough spare cash to put aside towards a deposit.

The rental market is in a bubble because it's chronically under-supplied. Prices are being forced up by demand, though some indices would suggest rental increases are starting to slow, probably because cash-strapped tenants simply can't afford the prices being demanded.

The Government is keen to support home ownership, with historically low interest rates and the introduction of schemes such as Help To Buy and NewBuy Guarantee. By playing to the hopes of aspiring buyers they're failing the burgeoning rental market, which is groaning under the weight of colossal demand. There are already concerns large parts of London are unaffordable for most first-time buyers. How long before that applies to renters as well?

Housing is set to be one of the top priorities as we head towards the next election. It's an emotive issue as well as an important one. Home is - or should be - the sanctuary we escape to when the rest of life is pressing in. Yet where do those who struggle to afford a decent home, or don't have one at all find comfort? With that in mind, Minister for Housing should be one of the most important jobs in the country. Yet you won't find Mark Prisk, the man with explicit responsibility for housing in the UK, amongst the 21 MPs and one peer who make up the cabinet. The Government isn't taking housing seriously enough.

Between 2001 and 2011 the number of people owning their homes fell for the first time since 1918. That's because, in truth, home ownership is no longer attainable for many and won't be for future generations either. Over the same period the number of people renting privately rocketed. Our attitudes towards renting long-term will have to change, because renting for life will become the norm in the UK, whether we like it or not.