02 June, 2011


It don't get any better, do it?

Laban has a post up on the decline of life chances and expectations in Britain's dwindling economy. A somewhat, how can I put it, peripatetic post by his standards, in which he writes

Our children, bar a fortunate few, will not be able to own the roof over their heads, something my and my parents generation could take for granted. We're going back to the days of my grandmother, who lived in rented accommodation all her life

Well, here, for what it's worth, is my nostalgic two penn'orth.

My parents married in 1945 when my father returned from the wars. They lived for the next ten years or so in various rented accommodations. Apart from a brief sojourn in a prefab in the middle of a field in Fallowfield, where I met my first cow, this accommodation always meant a single room in some private house in Moston, with shared access to the kitchen and bathroom. Among the places we stayed was my maternal grandparents' house, a privately rented "two and a half up, two and a half down" property where I was born in 1948. At that time the house accommodated me, my parents, my maternal grandparents and my mother's two younger unmarried brothers.

Despite both of them working, my parents were not exactly rolling in it. One family story, which I cannot verify, was that they applied for the ten-pound Pom scheme to try their luck in Australia but in the end couldn't scrape together the £20 migrant's contribution to the passage. Mind you, do bear in mind that £20 was a significant amount of moolah in the late 1940s. MeasuringWorth.com reckons £580 in RPI terms or £1800 in average earnings terms, which is an interestingly broad range in itself.

So enquiries were made about getting a council house. Again I cannot verify this story, but I have no reason to disbelieve it. My mother sought the advice of our local councillor, a decent Irishman who was also our GP. Questions were asked, including about my mother's maiden name. Now my mother's maiden name is about as archetypically bog Irish as it gets. So much so in fact that I sometimes wonder exactly whom my great-grandfather thought he was fooling when, on migrating to England, he dropped the initial O' off his surname, apparently "to sound less Oirish". My maternal grandmother's maiden name also sounds reassuringly Irish if misheard, but is probably in fact a Yorkshire name. The omens, apparently, were on the whole auspicious. Unfortunately, despite the Irish Catholic resonances, our branch of the family does not in fact dig with the left foot, and when this was made known it was quietly made clear by our Councillor/GP, who was an honest man, that at that time in Manchester, the chances of making progress on the housing list without, shall we say, a personal letter of recommendation from Father Bunloaf were approximately zilch.

If that story is accurate, and it does tally with assorted tittle-tattle I heard from other sources, then any readers from the orthodox righteous left might care to recalibrate their preconceptions of exactly who inflicts and who suffers discrimination in this world.

It's an ill wind of course, and this rejection directed my parents towards buying their own home. Not an easy goal, but with the aid of a low-interest mortgage arranged through my father's then trade union, the AEU, they were able to afford a property "in need of some renovation". (My father's activism as a shop steward may have facilitated this loan, authorized according to family legend by Hugh Scanlon himself.)

After that they never looked back, moving up through a series of properties until, on my father's retirement, they were able to escape the sinking ship of Manchester to spend their declining years in semi-rural Derbyshire.

As for me, well as a member of the cohort of 1948 I'm one of those jammy baby-boomer bastards everybody loves to hate. When I moved to London in the early 1970s, I first of all stayed in bedsit accommodation until, having after a few years acquired sufficient "form" as a saver with the Halifax, I was able to essay the bottom rung of the housing ladder.

Not entirely a cakewalk though. At the time I was working in the public sector and, during the high post-decimalization inflation period of the 1970s, collective wage negotiations were somewhat fraught. The union had, after three years, finally agreed a settlement. Fortunately I was able to persuade HR to report my new salary, agreed but not yet formally implemented, in response to the building society's inquiries. This meant I could just meet the 2.5× loan-to-earnings multiplier.

A mere bagatelle, of course, for we were now entering a handy period of serious inflation, with base rates hovering in the 10 - 13% range and mortgage rates a couple of percent higher. But by the end of the 1980s that loan I struggled to qualify for would be well under a year's salary.

No wonder the younger generations hate us. All I can say is that
  1. It's only in the last couple of decades that us baby-boomer bastards have inherited positions of actual power, and

  2. We didn't do it deliberately. In the 1960s, people genuinely believed the dream would last for ever (when we stopped worrying about dying in a nuclear armageddon, that is).

A different world.

On time and, I trust, within budget. Welcome back!

I guess 'take for granted' sounds a bit complacent. You had to 'drink water and walk slowly', but you could do it, even with little cash. You cut your coat according to your cloth.

My childhood house (the 2u-2d) cost £500, bought in the 50s in a dilapidated state - laths showing through the ceiling plaster, no inside loo or bath. The money came as a loan from my uncle - saved over 10 years from his wages, working in a cable factory. He lived at home.

My first house cost £9.5K in 1978, a bit over three times my wages.

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