Friday, 03 April 2015 00:00

The disappearing property ladder

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Many Britons have been brought up with "getting on the property ladder" as a major life goal. But is the ladder disappearing, asks Mariella Frostrup.

Transport yourself back to the year 1980. You're 25 years old and having a drink with a friend. You mention to him that you're keen to get a foot on the property ladder.
He looks puzzled. "That's an interesting way of putting it," he says. "I've never heard that phrase before." He wouldn't have heard it. The first time "property ladder" appeared in the Times newspaper was the next year, 1981.

Spool forward to the present day. If you're an ordinary 25-year-old in the UK and you had the same conversation with a group of friends, the chances are they'd look at you as if you'd lost touch with reality, or wonder how you'd come into untold riches.

For millions of people under the age of 40 the property ladder has become a snake instead - unsettling and threatening, the very antithesis of the stability and security that a home ought to bring.

We've been through what might turn out to be a strange and exceptional phase in the history of the UK, and that simple phrase, "the property ladder", captures so much about it.
A rung on a ladder isn't an end in itself, it's a means to somewhere else - to a stake in society, to greater wealth, to a bigger, better place in a few years' time. Financial security, a sense of belonging, and aspiration, have all been wrapped up in bricks and mortar. The dream of home ownership has profoundly changed. But what does that mean for us as a society, and what we can reasonably expect politics to do in response?

I was lucky. I come from a generation that rolled a six and, for the most part, landed on a ladder on the property board. I bought my first flat in London when I was 21, and it cost about four times the very ordinary salary I was earning.

In the past few weeks, I've been back to my old place. As I walked around it, I was struck again by the emotional power of a home. There were memories and ghosts in every room.

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