What can we learn from Generation Share?

The UK is in the midst of a housing crisis with demand dramatically outstripping supply. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “Britain is heading for a property shortage of more than a million homes by 2022 unless the current rate of housebuilding is dramatically increased”.

This necessary increase seems unachievable given the current strategy being followed by both the housebuilding industry and coalition government, which favours restoring economic growth via elevated house prices over building new homes.

As a result many young people are having to readdress their way of living, especially those in the UK’s tightly packed cities. This is reflected in recent census data, where the percentage of households with two or more unrelated adults living in them rose from 3% in 2001 to 12% in 2011.

These tenants may be technically middle class professionals, but are too poor to rent or buy on their own, and too rich to qualify for social housing. They have not been able to progress from their university days, forced to pile on top of each other in large flat shares, tiny bedsits, or illegal squats. Others have no choice but to move back in with their parents. A generation that through circumstance are forced to share.

Meanwhile many members of previous generations occupy four-bed fortresses. The rooms once occupied by children have (in the case of my mother-in-law) become extra-large cupboards to store boxes upon boxes of old clothes, trinkets and useless cables, the memorabilia of life.

This generational difference in the use of space was revealed in the 2008-2009 English housing survey by the Department for Communities and Local Government, where 46.9% of owner occupied homes were deemed to be under-occupied (having more than one spare room) compared to 16% in the private rented sector. Every corner of space is valued by a landlord and rented. It therefore does not make financial sense to have a spare room. ‘Generation share’ dream of owning the semi-detached homes of their parents, but this is not an option.

The question is where did this dream of owning our own home come from in the first place? Is it a manufactured ideal, drip-fed by politicians and encapsulated in that pithy idiom: “the Englishman's home is his castle”? Is it something our parents had drilled into them by their parents, and therefore something our generation in turn has come to believe is necessary?

Whatever the reason, rather than resisting and reverting to the ways of old, now is the time to encourage new ways of living. For example: why stop sharing when you have children? Why not share a home with another family? Think of the benefits: childcare could be split four ways rather than two and you will have access to larger shared spaces- possibly even a garden.

Alternatively there are models for larger scale shared communities such as community land trusts and housing cooperatives that are currently hidden as a niche sector. The benefits of such models go far beyond the financial. They encourage people to get to know their neighbours, develop a sense of place, and result in communities that look after each other. Such models should be considered by any future Labour government in their New Towns proposal, allowing for community ownership as well as individual.

As populations grow, and space and resources become scarcer, sharing will become a necessity if we are to develop a ‘one planet lifestyle’, as opposed to the one-and-a-half planets’ lifestyle we are currently abusing.

Rather than resist ‘Generation share’, perhaps now is the time embrace it and join in.

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