As a child growing up in the city, you’re pretty much conditioned to believe that getting rich, married, buying a dog and moving to the country, where you’ll live in a big house and breed children who will naturally be born wearing wellies is the dream. Not a bad dream and I suppose it’s a dream that will indeed suit many people. The reality for many of us city kids though, is quite different. Moving out of the city, even if into a small seaside town or quaint suburban village is something of a culture shock.
I was born and bred in North London. I spent my young life convincing myself that I hated it. City life just wasn’t for me. Like most naïve, hormonal children though, I just didn’t know how good I had it. I moved away to East Sussex when I was seventeen. For the most part, I loved it. I moved to a town I knew well. It was an adventure, until I fell pregnant. Then came the time where I could no longer afford to live there by myself and moved to another town just a couple of miles up the road. A seemingly less vibrant, blue rinse town. I lasted seven weeks. The dream was over and back I scurried to London. “It’s fine!” I told myself. “I’m feeling vulnerable and homesick because of the pregnancy. I’ll move back when I’ve had my baby.” That was over six years ago. Moving back to London and probably more poignantly, bringing my own child into the world and into London was like a rebirth. I suddenly became very aware of how much I loved my city. It’s colourful, busy and ridiculously convenient. It’s home.
Now I’m very much at a cross roads. I have more here in London than ever before. I have my beautiful children and their little lives, their school, their family, I have a fantastic network of friends, hobbies, interests and a social life that I don’t even have enough days of the week for. I have passions. Great passions, that have lead to some really fantastic potential career paths for me and of course I have the support of my family, who I couldn’t pursue any of my dreams and passions without. Not until my kids are much older at least. So, what’s the problem? Sounds like I have it all worked out here doesn’t it? I do, almost. There’s one factor and one factor alone, that seriously threatens to put a spanner in the works here and that is the housing crisis.
On average, a London borough council’s Local Housing Allowance (or DSS as it’s commonly known) is £204 per week for a two bed property. Now that sounds perfectly fine. In fact on average, that’s £100 more per week than the rest of the country, however the average weekly cost for a substandard two bed in London currently stands at £350 if you’re lucky. Here lies the problem and it’s not just my problem. It’s the problem facing thousands of Londoners. We’re simply being priced out of the city and surrounding areas. I worked out last year, that on our budget, we can’t afford to live within nearly a three hour radius of London. We’re a working family for crying out loud! Of course this problem isn’t just exclusive to London and as a result of this huge problem here, towns and cities as far as Scotland are now suffering. So many of us are having to move from the city, that overpopulation naturally becomes a problem elsewhere, where housing stock becomes limited and landlords seize the opportunity to put up the rents there too. Supply and demand. Capitalism at its finest.
So what do I do? Do I cling on to the threads of my beloved city for dear life? Do I stay for as long as I can, struggling to pay ridiculous rental costs for shitty flats? Or do I simply leave, pay a lot less for deposits and rent elsewhere, have cleaner air and a less hectic life for my children? – Sounds like a no brainer, I know, but bear in mind our friends, family, job prospects etc. I’d have absolutely none of that elsewhere, which is very likely to cause isolation. Plus, there’s a big problem in that I don’t actually know anywhere else! Where would I go? I’ve had the odd day out here and there in a handful of places around the country, but no where I’d say “That place would be great to live in!” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve checked out the rental markets in other cities and counties, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, it’s literally been a case of pin on a map. Now, being a mum of two young kids, I’m afraid I’m just not comfortable with that. I want to move when I’m ready, when I choose to and to somewhere I feel I know well enough to make a judgment on whether it would be right for us, not simply because London’s landlords are laughing all the way to the bank. The choice should be ours, but unfortunately I and the thousands of other Londoners who are in the same boat know full well that it isn’t about us and what we want. It’s about vanity and greed. Nothing more, nothing less.
Someone once said to me, “Why should people like yourself remain living in London if you can’t afford it? I can afford it, but I can’t live in London, because you’re all taking up the housing stock.” I know, what a twat. He was actually a nice enough bloke though, just ignorant, so I enlightened him. I’ve lived here all my life. So have my parents. In fact, there are over two hundred years worth of my family history in London. My grandfather and his father before him used to grow Leeks in a bath tub in their front yard. They then used to sell it by horse and cart in Camden Town. During the 1800s, my family were merchants, farmers, clerks, false teeth makers, engineers and soldiers, all in London. This grubby old city runs through my veins and I’ve spent my life sewing my roots here. Why should I move, because some bloke with no ties here, who has more money than me fancies his chances as a city slicker? Why should the size of his pockets mean that he has more of a right to live here than I do? Even this man couldn’t argue with that. Sadly though he’s right. Money talks.
By The Breadline Mum