I’m trying to be patient. I am trying to remain calm, but I just can’t (I can’t!) I keep screaming at random passers by. Here’s why.
I once watched a documentary on archaeology, which excavated a Georgian house in Manchester. An enlightened landlord had built what was, for the times, an decent, urban ‘worker’s cottage.’ Sadly his benevolent intentions were subverted by the greed of subsequent landlords, who squeezed generations into every room of what was intended to house one family.
We live in more enlightened times. We care a lot. Nowadays overcrowding, lack of privacy and dwindling personal space is absolutely never tolerated. Is it? It’s just that, this latest housing benefit proposal, which seems to expect claimants under the age of twenty-five to move back in with their parents is cruel, flawed and unworkable.
First all, we have to accept that adulthood begins for real at eighteen: you can drink, vote, and marry without consent (all the biggies.) So why have the Condems chanced upon twenty-five as a good age to force adult claimants to move back in with their parents? They might have left to study and been working for several years. Except…
Except the spare-room tax on council houses obliges their empty-nest parents to relocate. Or mum and dad might have died, gone into a care home (with the age of parenthood increasing, this is situation will increase) or just not want their prodigal child moping around.
British houses are tiny. Many teenagers share bedrooms that are smaller than that permitted for prison cells, and yet this hulking great twenty-four year old must return, pay to move, carrying the possession they’ve amassed in perhaps nine years of independence and cram everything into their tiny bedroom. Unless a half-sibling lives there now.
The mass building of dovecots led to cities packed not with spacious family homes, but one and two bed flats. So where are the homes suitable for families of three generations, maybe more? Those returnees might well have kids. They might be married. They might be ill, and their parents might not be able or willing to act as carers.
It used to be that overcrowding was universally accepted as a terrible thing, because it’s humiliating, and shatters dignity and privacy. Overcrowding thwarts ambition: where are students supposed to study in peace when they have Gove-only-knows how many family members stacked up in the lounge?
Leaving home is a valuable rite of passage as well as, simply, a necessity. And guess what, historically, it always was: young people left home just as they do now to work, then on farms or in service. If things went wrong they ended up not with their welcoming families, but in workhouses, begging or as one of the multitude of urban prostitutes.
If tenants are penalised financially for remaining in council houses deemed too big, then how are their children supposed to move back in? Unless that is, those free-market Georgian and Victorian slumlords are seen as trail blazing social-policy gurus. One family in every room, workhouses, begging: that can’t happen here. Can it?