REMEMBER when a portion of fish and chips was a relatively inexpensive and regular Friday night supper?
I haven’t had fish and chips for ages, but last week I treated myself. A small portion, and I mean small (there were about a dozen chips) cost me £7.20.
I won’t be doing that again in a hurry. Likewise, I will not be buying any more yeast buns. Regular readers will know I am rather partial to them and have been known to make my own. But I happened to be in Saltash recently where there’s a bakery that does some very good yeast buns. I picked up a pack of four. For years they were around £1.50 to £1.65. They’re now £2.35.
The increase was so shocking that I couldn’t stop myself mentioning it to the man who was serving me. He went on to point out how much all their other items had increased in price. That didn’t help my shock. We all know we’re in an era of high inflation but it’s easy to let the daily news reports about it go over our heads. It’s not until we’re out in the real world that we notice just how bad it is. I find it frightening.
Giving up fish and chips and yeast buns won’t be a hardship. I didn’t buy them very often anyway. But it’s not just the treats that have shot up. Items most of us would regard as essentials such as milk, cheese and flour have dramatically increased in price. Wages are not keeping up. Despite a recent wave of industrial action over pay and the promise of increases, in real terms most of us continue to be worse off and probably will be for years to come.
It’s not just food prices. I have been listening to a series of reports on the radio about the rental market. More and more people are renting because homeownership is out of reach for so many. That demand is pushing up rents.
As I listened to the stories of young people who are struggling to find a home they can afford to rent, I started to think back to what happened when I first stepped on to the housing ladder nearly 30 years ago.
It has always been the case that house prices were large compared to the average wage. But I am sure the gap has widened
considerably. I bought my first house at the age of 24. Up until then I was able to continue living at home because I was working nearby. I paid a very small contribution to the household bills to help my mum out, but it was nothing like the amount I’d have to pay if I was renting a place of my own.
I was in a very junior position at the BBC and only on a yearly contract, so no longterm job security. But I was able to save
enough to have a reasonable deposit.
My first home was a very small terraced house on a relatively new estate on the edge of Truro. It was a classic “starter” home and cost £45,000. Yes, you have read that figure correctly, a whole house in good condition for under fifty grand.
It seems cheap in comparison to prices now, but it still cost well over three times my annual salary and even with a reasonable deposit I was right at the limit of what the bank would lend me. I sold that house just three years later when I moved to Plymouth and it went up £3,000 in value in the short time I owned it. I was delighted.
I have just looked up that same house online. Nearly 30 years later it is now estimated to be worth £250,000. That is more than five times the amount I paid.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that the equivalent job now to the one I was doing 30 years ago isn’t paying five times more. Far from it!
Even young couples with a joint income are hard pushed to find anything they can afford to rent, let alone buy, and the situation is acutely felt in places such as Devon and Cornwall because of the demand for holiday homes and places to retire to.
In the next couple of years our teenager will be going into the world of work and is already talking about where she might get a job, including London.
But when I do the maths looking at average starting salaries versus rental costs, I can’t see how it’s possible. Like many families I can see us supporting her well into her adulthood even if she manages to secure a good job.
My heart goes out to her generation; the dream of home ownership is slipping ever further from their grasp. Over the years I often had to report on new housing schemes being built in the South West and how a proportion of them were for “affordable” housing. It was always a meaningless phrase. Who decides what’s affordable?
I am watching new homes being built at break-neck speed on the edge of Saltash at the moment. The lowest price is nearly £250,000. There is a promise of help for key workers, but that’s still a hefty sum on Cornish wages.
Housing problems here in the South West have been a ticking time bomb for decades and the ticking is now becoming deafening, yet I am not sure enough people in power are hearing it. Hopefully the high food prices will be relatively shortlived, but I can’t see any sign that renting or owning a home will get any easier.
If you’re taking the first tentative steps onto the housing ladder I wish you lots of luck and happiness in your new home. And let’s not forget all the parents who will be lending support via the bank of Mum and Dad.
Bye for now!