My 23-year-old step sister has recently moved in with me. After graduating, she didn't want to return home to the suburban county town where we both grew up, a decade or so apart. She felt she had no career options there, and having studied in London, felt this was where her future lies. But with an arts degree and the prospect of interminable internships, she landed a job as a chef. Her hours - split shifts - are brutal, and I have never asked what she earns.
I know I'm doing her a favour letting her live in my spare room. To smooth out the sudden transition to having an extra body under my roof, she does pay me rent - roughly half the market rate. But it's struck me how difficult it will be for her to move on, even though living with me must be far from ideal for her, though it's worked out okay so far.
Many of her friends who have continued to live in the capital do so by living in accommodation that by any standards, is pretty dire, sharing tiny rooms, or putting up with flat shares with strangers. And yet, with rental prices rocketing, it feels like there is no option. Our dad has railed against her career choices. "At 23", he argues, "I had a house and a baby on the way. By 30, I had my own business." But what he fails to see is how much the world has changed, and how little power most of us have to change their circumstances for the better, when the odds are against us.
Concerned for her future, and that of my own children, yet another decade behind, I started looking at options for affordable housing. Giving her a helping hand, as my mother had done for me, would be an investment, somewhere to store a chunk of money for the long term, and giving her a shaky foothold on an increasingly narrow property ladder.
Getting on said ladder aged 24 - with a little helping hand from my mum, and a four-year career spent climbing poles greasing my way, turned out to be the best career move I ever made, netting me more in profit than any job I've ever done - and I have a good degree and a masters, which is an option my Dad's not prepared to fork out for my sister, having made his way - a determined dyslexic - without a single O-level.
And he's not playing favourites either, hence my university pole dancing - I was lucky enough to get a scholarship for the masters, for what good it did me. I had my first born straight afterwards, and found re-entering the profession I entered tricky, settling for a related, reasonably paid, though less glamorous alternative in the end.
So it makes sense to me that the earlier this milestone can be achieved, the better an investment buying a property is. But the fact is, these days, it's practically impossible. Although I philosophically object the affordable housing schemes - they push up house prices, and rip of their part-owners, who must also pay rent well above what an outright mortgage would cost, the idea of scraping together a £10,000 deposit between us on a two bedroomed property that's priced at under £150,000 feels just about achievable. The idea being she could rent out one of the bedrooms to help her out with the mortgage / rent, and have somewhere to rent out if she ever decided to move on from the capital. After all that's how I bought my first flat in London.
But the criteria for these schemes is ridiculous. You need a deposit, fees and stamp duty as standard, but you also need savings of around a quarter of a million pounds and a household income of £60,000. For a two bed shoe box in Spitalfields. We all know, these day, house prices in London are unaffordable to all but the very wealthy. The same affordable property in Maidstone would cost around £70,000. But she's right in saying opportunities are limited there. As it is, then, she has very little hope of owning a place of her own, or in the words of our dad, growing up.
Living month to month paying rent is all very well. For many twentysomethings it is all part and parcel of being twentysomething. But with an unstable global economy and the knock on effect on jobs, it feels like a precarious existence, and one that offers very little in the way of long term financial power.
Having witnessed job losses close to home in the last recession, I know how frightening it can be, worried that you're going to lose the roof over your head. At the very least, I guess she can always go back to Dad - whose six-bedroom home is still home to my ten year old half-sister and occasionally my 20 year old step brother on vacation from uni.
But like so many people her age, it means her options for the future are curtailed. Owning a home offers a very finite kind of power, but it's a power nonetheless. It performs, financially, better than most salaries.The money may be locked up until I have enough of London life, but then I can cash in, move out, and have rich property pickings at my disposal, almost anywhere I like in the world, except maybe Singapore.
Owning a home of one's own might not be everyone's dream, but increasingly, it feels like this kind of lifestyle, that of being a homeowner, one middle-class people once took more or less for granted is nothing but, for many people. Just as indebted people are easier to keep chained to employment - a convenient truth for successive governments over the last decade - or since I went to uni, when the student loan was introduced (yes, at 35, I'm still paying it off) - home-less, transient people are surely more likely to work long hours for low pay to sustain the high cost of the rented roof over their head. It keeps noses to the grindstone, blames people for adding burdens to their situation (children? A liability, or a luxury in London) and means a whole generation simply can't afford to grow up.