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An Open Letter to Kirstie Allsopp, from someone who can't afford to buy a house

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When Kirstie Allsopp was quoted in The Sunday Times recently, saying that young people could afford houses if we bought less coffee and didn’t have gym memberships, all I could think was ‘here we go again.’ Not another fifty-something criticising Millennials and Gen Z for the way we live our lives. Spending all our money on avocado toast and Pret coffee blah blah blah… it’s getting beyond old now.

We’ve heard it all before. But Allsopp’s recent claims simply don’t reflect the realities of the property market today, something she’s supposed to be an expert on.

Here’s what she actually said:

“When I bought my first property, going abroad, the easyJet, coffee, gym, Netflix lifestyle didn’t exist. I used to walk to work with a sandwich. And on payday I’d go for a pizza, and to a movie, and buy a lipstick. Interest rates were 15 per cent, I was earning £11,500 a year.”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Kirstie is partially right. Every millennial and Gen Z I know has a Netflix subscription, a gym membership and goes out for at least two coffees a week. Travelling is also more accessible nowadays (excluding during the pandemic obviously). But lifestyle isn’t the real issue - the real issue is affordability.

When Kirstie bought her first house, the average property cost around three times the average salary. Today you’re looking at more like 10-12 times the average salary. To save anywhere near enough to bridge that gap would take decades, by which time property prices will have gone up anyway. Of course we can make savings, but there’s a difference between walking to work for a couple of years and living frugally till your 40s.
I don’t know what the average rent was in 1992, but today 4 in 5 renters spend more than 30% of their salary on rent. Around a third spend more than half. Skipping the odd avocado isn’t going to put a dent in the affordability gap.

If buying the occasional oat milk latte and almond croissant from Pret gets me out the house for a walk and puts a smile on my face, I’d spend that money without any hesitation. A gym membership could also be priceless to someone, in terms of both mental and physical health. It’s really not a luxury.

We can all make savings and quite possibly should. But the world simply isn’t the same as it was when Kirstie bought her first house. Was it ‘better’ then? Maybe, in some ways. Can we look back and learn something - probably. Is the reality of buying a house the same for people in their twenties in 2022 as it was in 1992 - absolutely not.

So, yes, do have a look and see if you can make savings. With the cost of living set to rise over the coming months (and quite possibly years) we’ll all need to anyway. But don’t shame us for not being able to afford to buy houses. It’s not a problem we created.

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