Looking through a London estate agent’s front window last week, I had the feeling I was staring down the barrel of a gun.
After three years of study in the north, like many of the 300,000 aspiring graduates churned out by British universities every year, I’m in the capital hunting that elusive career.
While the “Northern Powerhouse” has made some advances, our lopsided economy still screams “London”. The civil service, law, business, banking, tech, film, journalism or advertising – you name it, the vast majority of jobs are here.
It’s an anxiety-fuelling, absurd, and utterly damaging experience. The competition is immense, the cost of living even more so.
Now, I was born and raised in Lewisham, South London. Put simply, it’s never been a particularly attractive area. Lewisham is one of the capital’s poorest boroughs and, when I left for university in 2013, it had the honour of being crowned the “least peaceful” place in the UK.
Three years on, I’m back. The poverty hasn’t gone. There’s still drugs and crime galore. The difference is, in the first three months of 2016, the average property price went up by £2,500 a week.
The pace of change is phenomenal. Want to live here and work in London? How does renting a tiny flat for £300 a week sound? Or what about £400,000 for one bedroom in an old council estate? Anyone who reads the news knows that the picture is the same, if not far worse, right across the capital. Areas which used to be a safe bet for those on starter salaries are quickly becoming unaffordable.
How will scores of my non-London peers cope? If they come from money, their parents can prop them up while they get a foot in the door. As for graduates from less affluent backgrounds, unless they can grab a rare graduate scheme, it’s difficult to see how they will manage the extortionate rents from day one of the job hunt. Indeed, the majority of my working class friends from university simply don’t see London as an option.
Young people in pursuit of a career have always had to slum it for a few years in big cities. You could argue it’s part of the fun. You suffer today for a better tomorrow. But it’s not fun to live in a badly lit damp cupboard of a room. It’s not character building for your average Londoner to hand over two thirds of their salary straight to their landlord.
In the long term, an unaffordable London might diversify our economy, as companies and graduates are forced elsewhere. But as for now, to rent or buy? It’s a pick your poison situation. The problem is, many young people simply can’t afford either.
Everyone wants to have independence, security, some savings, maybe a marriage and children. But the fact is for many young people, these aspirations have been shot to pieces.