Ever since lockdown was first announced, people have understandably been angry at those who flout the Government’s rules.
Of course, anyone who goes out and mixes with others deserves condemnation (and intervention) – especially when staying at home quite literally saves lives.
Even so, some public anger has stretched into more ambiguous territory, with vitriol directed at those who headed to the park last weekend.
Brockwell Park and Primrose Hill in London have been singled out as prime sites for sinful sunbathers. Photographs of them sitting down were paraded in newspapers and on social media, to the horror of others.
Some have accused the young of being the least compliant group, in terms of social distancing. “Those selfish millennials”, has been the mindset.
Like I say, those who are determined to ignore social distancing rules are irresponsible and deserve ticking off.
But some of the criticism has been indiscriminately aimed at people who were sitting on their own, metres away from others. One would guess that these souls are those who feel cooped up at home and need space – without the glares of park-shamers.
Others have already pointed out that lockdown is much harder for some groups than others; those in abusive relationships, with mental illness and/ or living in dire housing will find it more difficult than the person with the four-bed in the countryside.
In regards to housing, this is why we need to be especially careful about judging young people going to parks, who are overwhelmingly affected by the housing crisis. (And when I say young, the definition is getting larger – with 40s and 50s infantilised by lack of supply).
Many live in London by economic necessity, as it’s where most of the jobs in the UK are, and up against enormous competition for a place. Indeed, between 2003/4 to 2017/18 in England, the number of private renters aged 16-24 increased from 322,000 to 537,000, and 675,000 to 1.4 million for 25-34-year-olds – a rate that the Government never prepared for.
On a practical level, this means thousands find themselves living in overcrowded flats, which often have inadequate conditions (no living rooms, “box” bedrooms, leaks, mould, creepy landlords, cupboards falling off hinges, a housemate they don’t speak to, you name it). All the while they are paying a big chunk of their salary on rent.
Far from getting cross at people in the park, we need to ask what their situation looks like during lockdown. As a nation we cannot have it both ways; expecting so many of our citizens to live in squalid conditions, then complaining when they cannot tolerate long periods inside.
Generally, Coronavirus is going to expose pros (technological innovation, medicine) and cons to our society, and housing will very much fall into the latter category. For too long the Government has been putting off dealing with the issue. My personal hunch is that MPs simply cannot face up to the problem, and even seem to think leaving the EU is easier.
This is no doubt because the solution will have to be radical and no doubt offend their voter-base – whether it’s building on the green belt, liberalising the planning system, or reducing immigration to control demand for properties. But tough – they must do something. (Incidentally, Labour’s policies, like rent control, have been dire and would increase demand).
Ultimately not addressing the housing crisis will haunt the Tories in future elections. The outcome of the last one, though fantastic, wasn’t exactly a “youth-quake”, and with little capital, younger generations cannot be counted on to become Conservative as they grow older – contrary to typical expectations.
In the short-term, the housing crisis already presents problems. With two thirds of private renters without savings, we are overly reliant as a society on Government bailouts for the Coronavirus and any other such incidences, God forbid – never mind the problems this creates for the younger generation when they reach retirement, with nothing to last on. Their dependence on renting and loans, paired with income losses, means whole economic chains have ground to a halt.
But housing isn’t fundamentally about economics; it’s a human need. The Conservatives have pledged to be the party of the family, but most my age (31) cannot afford to get started (and that’s not because we love avocados).
Across generations, the pandemic would simply be much easier to bear with long-term, affordable housing, too.
There are signs the Tories will improve matters. Even their plan, before the pandemic, to move 22,000 civil servants out of London will help to move demand to other parts of the UK; a lot of the issue is caused by everything being too South-Eastern centric.
But it’s still not enough – and more must be done to remedy the issue, albeit when life is back to normal.
Whenever, as a millennial, I have brought up this issue, I have been told to be grateful because at least I did not suffer the Blitz. I am, of course, appreciative for this fact – but it is no reassurance that my flat is not rubble.
Progressive millennials have not helped the matter, either, diverting the Government’s attention onto non-matters, such as “offensive” university speakers. They have given the rest of us a bad name – when housing is a genuine issue, and hard workers are suffering.
Of course, in many ways, younger generations are enormously lucky – our fundamental fortune being health, and age, at this time – which we shall not take for granted.
And obviously there are much more urgent Government priorities to tackle.
But the fact remains that the people in the park are a symptom of a big problem that’s been pushed down in our society.
While we shall be expected to pay lots of tax to help others, it’s time our hard work, and aspirations for family and stability, were supported too.