The parent trap

Only political action will reverse rise in stay-at-home youth

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When think-tanks and sociologists turn a mind to the question of young people’s political apathy, in particular their reluctance to turn up on election day, it is often said that many simply do not see how the brouhaha in Westminster affects their daily lives. As excuses go, this one loses ground by the day.

According to research from the homelessness charity Shelter, two million of the 20- to 34-year-olds living with their parents at the time of the 2011 census, or 75 per cent of the total, had a job. This fits into a pattern of young people failing to fly the nest: since 1996, the number of stay-at-homers has jumped by a quarter. In effect, a salary no longer pays enough to propel young people out from under their parents’ wing. PMQs might seem a world away. But anybody facing an early adulthood spent sharing toothpaste with mum and dad has ample reason to make their mark in 2015.

The dearth of affordable housing cannot, of course, be solely attributed to political failures. But private house-building has held up fairly well since the early 1980s, at a rate of around 160,000 new builds per year. In contrast, successive Labour and Tory governments have ducked out of spending money on homes for the less well-off, favouring schools and the NHS. The proliferation of luxury properties at the top end of the market, and a waiting list of 4.5 million for social housing at the bottom, testifies to decades of laissez-faire. As a result, young people without parental assistance may see that first rung on the property ladder as somewhere around neck height. Renting alone is a step too far for many.

Housing is a political problem, and a solution will require more political intervention. Help to Buy – the Government’s flagship programme – stimulates demand and not supply. Another coalition scheme, the £7bn New Homes Bonus, has done little to boost construction. Any manifesto writers in Labour, Tory or Liberal Democrat HQ who propose a fix should be able to swing some support from young people. If they’re too apathetic to notice, perhaps the parents forced into prolonged laundry duty might have a little word.

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