“I feel like I’ve aged about 10 years during this whole process.” — Filipa
The current renting crisis in London is a complete nightmare. Arguably far more frustrating than the Leonardo DiCaprio 25-year-old romance complex, the housing market has become a seriously contentious and stressful issue for so many gen Zers.
The cost of living crisis has impacted so many young people across the entirety of the UK, but there’s something specifically heinous and unironically mean-spirited about the renting situation in London. We always knew that landlords were the devil, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that they only represent one small hurdle in what feels like the most ridiculously difficult obstacle course ever invented.
According to Zoopla, the average cost of renting a home has reached nearly £1,000 a month as rents rise at their fastest pace for 14 years.
On top of that, studies have shown that the number of properties available to rent via agents has halved since 2019. Of course, to anyone currently attempting to rent in London, this is no surprise whatsoever.
You practically have to have a full time executive assistant house hunting if you want to be considered for any property half decent. And by half decent I, of course, mean that the rats live in the walls, rather than in the living room.
I’ve been searching for a place to rent in London for two months now. My friend and I have scoured the infamous ‘gals who rent’ Facebook page, organised insanely awkward cocktail meet-ups with strangers who seem to care far more about their proximity to Clapham Common than their office, and been bombarded with phone calls from estate agents who promise they’re “on [our] side.” And currently, the only thing we have to show from it is a depreciated bank balance.
And I’m not the only one, whether you’re searching for a flat, or trying desperately to stay in one after rent increases go through the roof, we’re all struggling.
So, rather than propose any logical or practical solution, I thought it’d be far more apt if we collectively bask in our sorrows together. And, in an attempt to really push this rather unhelpful yet slightly comforting mantra of “we’re all in this together,” I spoke with members of the SCREENSHOT team to get their perspectives on the current situation—and potentially help some gloomy renters feel less alone.
Some hectic, some unhinged, and some optimistic, here’s SCREENSHOT’s take:
Job title: Creative Social Media Editor
“I made an offer on a two bed flat recently with a girl from the ‘gals who rent’ Facebook group. The offer was accepted and I paid the holding deposit so that we take the property off the market—these things move insanely fast, so you have to be on it. A couple hours later the girl from the Facebook group messaged me bailing out, saying that her friends had a spare room for her after all. So, I’m officially back to square one looking for rooms, only now, I’m down £300.”
“It isn’t an understatement to say that my story pretty much sums up the whole renting experience in London right now.”
Job title: Creative Social Media Editor
“I’m petrified that the renting crisis will never calm down and I’ll live with my mum and dad until I’m 40.”
Job title: Junior Video Editor
“I was looking for a flat for around nine months, with no luck. In the end I found one through a friend of a friend of my sister and ended up moving in within a few weeks. It really went from zero to 100 very suddenly. The house I live in now is in pretty bad condition, but we’re staying put as the rent is so good for the area. I literally have a hole in my ceiling that leaks water and no heating but I’ll always choose location over the house itself.”
“Oh, and my curtain rod completely shattered this morning for no apparent reason—happy renting!”
Job title: Editorial Assistant and Staff Writer
“The six months I spent looking for a flat with my mates was a literal nightmare, everywhere decent was out of the way or didn’t allow for sharers.
“The price of these flats versus the states they were in was ungodly.”
Job title: Junior Video Editor
“It shouldn’t be this hard to find an affordable home that is actually worth the money and isn’t the size of a kitchen cupboard.”
“The rental market is honestly the ghetto. I hate it here.”
Age: 31 (Still counts as he’s about as gen Z as a millennial could get)
Job title: Creative Social Media Editor
“At first, the thought of moving to South London was a little scary as I’ve been so used to living North of the river. Ultimately though, moving into a house share was a lot more fun than I first thought.”
“I was definitely one of the lucky ones.”
While it’s definitely nowhere near sufficient, there have been some schemes put forward by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. The London Living Rent plan was created as a type of intermediate affordable housing for middle-income Londoners who want to build up savings to buy a home.
London Living Rent homes will be offered on tenancies of a minimum of three years. By offering a below-market rent, tenants are supported to save and given the option to buy their home on a shared ownership basis during their tenancy.
It’s just not good enough though, as the current plans are in no way adequately inclusive or expansive. You can’t spend two minutes online without coming across personal testimonies from young individuals who are finding it impossible to find, and maintain, decent accommodation in London. So, how long is it going to take before we’re listened to?
It’s 2023, and striking is in the air. From university lecturers to nurses, the UK is witnessing the largest surge in industrial action in recent memory, with the highest number of work days lost to strikes since the Thatcher era.
Can you blame them? Workers across the UK are feeling the squeeze, as pay growth suffers one of its largest falls since records began. So, why exactly do we strike? And what would happen if we all collectively hung up our boots and just… went on strike?
According to Dr Harry Pitts, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter: “Strikes can be moments of political awakening, moments of solidarity, and moments of envisioning a better future of work on the picket lines.”
Speaking with SCREENSHOT, the lecturer continued: “But, ultimately, they are part of negotiations: the push and pull between employers and employees to find what’s usually a compromised solution to a dispute, where neither side gets exactly what they want in the beginning.” “That’s a very dispassionate way of seeing a strike—but it’s what we’re seeing now,” Pitts added.
When it boils down to it, striking is a vital tool that workers can use to manoeuvre themselves into a place of power against their employers. By stopping production and services, or simply just walking out of the job, they can leverage the power they have in an attempt to negotiate with the boss. As the cost of living crisis bites and inflation continues to rise, more workers across the UK are demanding fairer pay and rights within the workplace—something that’s absurdly become a luxury these days.
And, given the current climate, walking out of the job and heading for the picket line might be a tempting idea. Which begs the question: what would happen if we all went on strike?
The idea of widespread industrial action isn’t new. In fact, the most notable and largest industrial dispute in Britain’s history was the General Strike of 1926, in which workers across Britain stopped working in support of the coal miners who were facing severe cuts in pay, longer hours and devastatingly dangerous working conditions.
Given the increasingly heated tensions between employers and employees—and the serious criticisms surrounding Rishi Sunak and the current government— it wouldn’t be the most far-fetched assumption that we might be heading into another general strike, almost a century later?
Well, according to the experts, it isn’t that simple. Pitts explained: “I personally think it’s quite hard to imagine how it would happen in the UK today. It would be a totally different model than what we experienced in 1926.”
Why is that? In essence, it all boils down to how industry and work have changed over the last century. As the lecturer noted, unions simply don’t have as much power as they did in the early 1990s—in part due to the vast structural and societal shifts.
“Back then, you had high employment and also high trade union membership in industries like mining, so you could really cause a lot of chaos. You could really leverage your opposition as a union or group of workers,” Pitts stated.
“We have quite a different economy now which doesn’t tend to have that sheer industrial strength,” he continued.
Although numbers fluctuate slightly year on year, the past decades have seen a fall in trade union membership across Britain—with the balance of power shifting decisively towards employers. According to research by the Resolution Foundation and the London School of Economics, union membership in 2021 had fallen to 23 per cent, down from a peak of 53 per cent in 1980.
What’s this resulted in? A serious blow to the pocket of the everyday British employee. According to the 2022 study, the decline in trade unions has caused UK workers to be £100 a week worse off in wages, with earnings marked down as much as 25 per cent.
The reality is that we’re sadly not in a position to call for a general strike, or at least widespread industrial action reminiscent of what we’ve seen in the 1920s. Looking at the numbers is somewhat of a reality check, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to pick up the pickets.
There “isn’t any serious proposal” for a general strike, Pitts reinforces. Instead, when people do call for a general strike, industrial activists usually refer to some sort of coordinated action between sectors that are considering a strike or are currently striking—university lectures, postal workers, train staff, and so on.
“[The term today often refers to] the idea that you can’t coordinate that action to bring society to a standstill, to better realise the different conditions that people are fighting for,” Pitts said. “If that were to happen, it would probably be done through the Trade Union Congress, which brings together many of Britain’s trade unions under one roof.”
The lecturer concluded that, while this specific body hasn’t coordinated any action, there have been some forms of collaboration in recent times. Such as the university staff striking on the same days as railways workers and nurses, for example.
In other words, this is a recent overt example of collaboration and solidarity between different sectors, a taster of what a general strike could look like. But we’re far from implementing a general strike across the country.
At face value, a general strike can seem like an ambitious and, depending on who you ask, exciting prospect. It can represent a middle finger to the greedy elite, and a demand for better fairer working conditions. But dig a little deeper and the reality of a general strike is a lot more complicated.
From the weakening power of trade unions across Britain, to the drastic changes we’ve seen in the industry over the last century, it’s clear that a general strike isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean striking is meaningless either.
As gen Z continues to face the transformative ways in which we work—feeling the brunt of zero-hour contracts, the gig economy and precarious forms of labour—trade unions have never been more important for young people.
So, even if we’re not heading for a general strike, it’s important to fight for your rights to fair work and join a union. After all, we wouldn’t have a minimum wage, holiday pay, or even the weekend without them.