What renewing my driving licence taught me about the housing market.

This week, I had to renew my driving licence. I turn 27 next month and somehow it has been ten years since I excitedly sent off for a green provisional one in time for my 17th birthday. When I went to the post office to update it and the woman asked me which home address I wanted on the new licence, I realised that what seemed like a straightforward question was not in fact quite so easy to answer.

License At the time I passed my test, I was a teenager living at home with my parents so it was their address that was listed as ‘home’ on the licence I have carried around for the last ten years. Since then, I have had eleven different addresses in five different cities, eleven places I have called home for varying periods of time. Student halls, spare rooms, a boxy attic room with a staircase even the landlord admitted wasn’t quite legal… none of them have been a permanent home.

I have lived nowhere long enough to want the address etched on a pink rectangle of plastic for the next decade, a fairly familiar story for the majority of millennials. In generations gone by, the idea of having one address for longer than a twelve-month contract was nothing abnormal, less still the thought owning a home in your twenties. My parents’ home is a four-bed house they bought for a four-figure sum nearly forty years ago.

This week’s budget announced a reduction in stamp duty for first-time buyers on homes up to £300k, a policy which amounts to little more than an expensive sticking plaster for the gaping wound of the housing crisis. Home ownership is still unaffordable and unattainable for most of my generation, while the private rental sector offers little in the way of security. With only 64.1% of British households now owning their own home outright or with a mortgage(1), action is needed not just to build more houses but also to create secure homes for more people.

The language of home is often used interchangeably with that of housing or property but there are subtle differences which policy-makers cannot always capture. When we talk about a tragedy as being ‘close to home’, it’s an emotional thing not just a physical thing. When people are displaced or dispossessed, we don’t describe them as ‘houseless’ but rather ‘homeless’. But when it comes to policy, we somehow manage to depersonalise it and talk about ‘housing’ people.

I wonder if events like the Grenfell Tower disaster might stem from this disconnect. Maybe what is needed to avoid another Grenfell is for those in power, or perhaps all of us, to learn to speak the language of homes not houses; security and community rather than simply property.

I don’t necessarily crave a mortgage or consider home ownership to be the ‘be all and end all’ of adulthood. More than that, I often find myself longing for the permanence of my own home.

And as for my driving licence? I smiled at the woman in the post office and asked her to change the photo on my licence but to keep Mum and Dad’s address on it. The dirty-blonde highlights of my sixteen-year-old self have long gone but home, at least for now, hasn’t changed. 



(1) Resolution Foundation: www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/press-releases/home-ownership-struggle-hits-coronation-street/


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