London is becoming unliveable for young people like me


his time last year, stood on the front porch of a small (but respectable) north London flat, I was giddy with excitement. After living at home for a year during the height of the pandemic, I was finally, permanently, flying the nest, moving in with three of my closest university friends also making the big move for the first time.

Moving day was a frenzy of endless suitcases, stacks of books and far too many plants as we feverishly ran around collecting various appliances from Facebook marketplace and Gumtree. It was typically chaotic but it was perfect — after a year of tragedy and isolation, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to all be in a position to move out and begin the Everything I Know About Love chapter of our twenties. We even had a dishwasher.

Fast-forward almost exactly a year to the day, and I’m back on my parents’ doorstep, same suitcases in hand, but my eyes far less bright and my tail far less bushy. There was no big falling out, no awkward roommate love triangle. No, it was far less glamorous than that. I just couldn’t afford the rent any more.

With energy bills hitting record highs and inflation so crippling that you have to take out a three-month payment plan just to buy a pint, I began to realise that I had far more month at the end of my money than money at the end of the month. I felt like I had done everything right: worked hard and got a good degree and a good job, done the living-at-home-and-saving bit — and still I was forced to climb back down the ladder of adulthood and into my childhood bedroom.

And everywhere I look it seems I am hearing similar stories from people my age. Young people being evicted by greedy landlords with a better offer, or retreating back to their parents with their tails between their legs, exhausted from navigating the financial burden of living independently in a recession. Nearly half of Gen Z and millennials spend their entire monthly income on living costs, according to a survey by Deloitte, while two in five have taken on additional work to make ends meet.

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Even though I know it was probably the most grown-up decision I could have made, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve failed as an adult. This is not the way round it is supposed to be. No amount of comforting myself by repeating the phrase “unprecedented economic events” over and over again can change that niggling fact.

Of course it is a huge privilege to have parents who happen to live in the same city as me and are willing to accept me as a friendly squatter — for many young people this is not an option. But for those who find themselves in this situation, that doesn’t ease the mental health impacts of being forced to abandon your friends and community, for reasons out of your control.

The ability to move out in your early twenties, live a comfortable life, and save money to eventually buy a property is not an unrealistic demand to make of a prosperous country. But for so many it is looking more and more like a fairytale.

In other news…

For 23 years I stubbornly avoided paying attention to our de facto national sport. It started off as genuine ignorance (netball and tennis have always been more my thing) but it did develop into a petty (and foolproof) way to rile up irritating men: (“No, I have no idea how the offside rule works and, in fact, I do not want you to explain it to me, because I do not care”).

But last Saturday I was on my feet at the Emirates stadium, hugging strangers and leading chants of “what do we think of Tottenham?” as Vivianne Miedema scored her second goal as Arsenal took a 4-0 lead in the north London derby.

The Euros had converted me. I’d been put off by the unsavoury machismo of the male game but seeing the atmosphere and the power of the Lionesses, I was hooked. More than 53,000 people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds — a record turnout for a WSL at the Emirates — were there on Saturday. Let’s hope the momentum is here to stay.

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