As a nation, we’re taller, heavier and larger than our parents. Yet something odd has happened. If we manage to scrape up the money to get on the property ladder, we are condemned to live in houses half as big as the ones our grandparents aspired to own.
All over Britain, around every town and city, fields are being covered in identical little boxes – homes too cramped for real furniture to fit into the living room, with garages too small for a decent-sized car, with a spartan area in front that estate agents have the gall to call a garden.
Downstairs, just one room, with a dining area at one end and a kitchen like an airline galley. Upstairs, one double bedroom and two dinky hutches, one bathroom. Zero storage space. Outside, these houses might look normal, even desirable – but stand next to the front door and you realise it’s an optical illusion. Starter homes are fit only for pixies and tiny people.
A new report by the Post Office uses research compiled by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to compare semi-detached houses built in 1924 with the average new home today – and the results are shocking. The 1920s houses averaged 1,647sq ft, compared with a Lilliputian new-build of 2014 which contains only 925sq ft of living space: the equivalent of two double bedrooms has vanished into thin air.
No wonder nobody puts the family cars in the garage. It gets turned into a bedroom, study or storage room, and the front garden will be concreted over and turned into a parking space. In cities, garages are sold (three fetched £500,000 in south London last week) and turned into houses.
One in three parents has given up their double bedroom to provide their children a bigger space to study and play in. There are stories of people keeping their non-perishable shopping in their cars, of storing their cleaning equipment in another building entirely. Ugly sheds fill what’s left of the back garden, packed full of stuff there’s no room for anywhere else.
Most modern housing is not fit for purpose – it’s inhuman, eroding any sense of privacy. There’s nowhere to be quiet, to read, to get on with your own stuff. Put simply, we don’t just have a housing shortage (it’s estimated we need to build 200,000 units a year): the new homes which do get built are storing up huge problems for the future.
Shelter says a quarter of the working adults aged 20 to 34 (nearly two million) are still living at home with their parents and will be there for the foreseeable future. Young people have less space to eat and sleep in than most prisoners.
We cleared slums after the war and built council flats to Parker-Morris standards, which would seem spacious today. Inflated land prices and soaring demand have resulted in thousands of these dinky boxes, which fail on every level: aesthetically threadbare and socially dubious.
No wonder a report from Care UK finds that one in three of us would refuse to take in an elderly parent. Where on earth would we put them? Back-to-back slums might have been eradicated, but we’ve built a new kind of slum, one that might look cute and pretty from a distance but which stifles its inhabitants.
Two-thirds of home owners say they want to buy somewhere bigger, but only a third will be able to do so. Housing is fundamental to happiness, and I worry what damage these nasty little new homes will have in the long term on the nation’s mental health.
Next year, Mr Hague, I expect to take your place
Awards ceremonies for folk in the media and entertainment industry can be pompous and dull. I hardly go to any these days as I can’t manage to look cheerful when I haven’t won anything, plus it takes hours to put on a glam face and cram myself into a suitable frock.
Even so, I was looking forward to the annual Camp Hill Sausage and Beer Festival in North Yorkshire the other day. My neighbour Jay Jopling assured me I would be perfect to present the prize for the best sausage.
I live locally, eat loads of sausages and I’ve just filmed a BBC One series about food (on your screens in September). Imagine my disappointment when I discovered my services were not required as the organisers already had a “celebrity” to do the honours – none other than William Hague, obviously looking for work now he has stepped down from the onerous job of foreign secretary.
Negotiating peace treaties and EU summits are clearly easier tasks than attending a sausage festival, though. When Mr Hague encountered a hen party wearing L-plates, he had to ask what they mean. The photo of this historic encounter shows he still has some way to go when it comes to dealing with the real world. Next year, I’ll be waiting for that call to replace him as sausage awards presenter.
Germans abroad aren’t the picture of dignity, either
The German tabloid newspaper Bild has published a no-holds-barred piece attacking British holidaymakers, in the style of our own bible of political incorrectness and xenophobia, The Sun.
The piece was sparked off by reports that Brits on Mallorca have been suffering from a horrid cough after drinking cheap vodka that costs just €3 (£2.40) a litre. Bild says that apart from giving the world a new illness, Rushkincoff, named after this beverage, we are guilty of a whole list of holiday “crimes”: from wandering hands, to barely dressed teenage bimbos, ghastly tattoos and “balcony leg” – caused by jumping into the hotel swimming pool from the balcony of your room.
The article is illustrated with a grotesque cartoon of a blubbery sunburnt bloke and a topless blonde wearing bunny ears. If this is war, bring it on. German “crimes” I could list include arising at dawn to place towels on the best sunloungers by the pool, eating mystery meat salamis at breakfast and hoovering up every single egg before you’ve made your way to the buffet.
Sadly, though, I know that Bild are right – and the last place I shall be on holiday this summer is a beach containing other Brits.
We don’t need more laws to fight cyber-bulling
The House of Lords Communication Committee wants Facebook and Twitter to be compelled to identify all users so that police can track down bullies, and people who post “revenge porn”.
They want the Government to bring in laws forcing social media companies to compile registers, which is unrealistic. First, these companies are not based in the UK, but the US. Second, we’re too quick to think that a new law will solve any social problem.
It has been pointed out by legal experts that we already have laws in place that deal with revenge porn and bullying, so why clutter up the statute book with more? More importantly, the internet is extremely hard to police – look at the task of tracking and identifying the people who access images of child abuse.
Dealing with this properly requires huge resources, and if the police are really to tackle cyber-bullying, they won’t have the manpower to deal with crimes such as domestic abuse, robbery and murder. If someone abuses me on Twitter, I just delete it, and I’ve blocked only about four or five people out of 26,000. As for offensive emails, the delete button is very handy. The House of Lords has more important tasks than monitoring social media.