Inside Generation Rent: how it looks now
We hear often about this generation on the rise, a constituency of aspirational renters eyeing brightly, if optimistically, at a hopeful future of homeownership. With the General Election shaping up attitudes in the press, and hammy talks about ‘manifestos’ aplenty, we ask how the media uses language to talk about Generation Rent.
Not all deadlines, it would seem, are worth keeping.
It was perhaps a case of cosmic irony that Brexit negotiations, set to mature on the 31st October, happened to land on the evening of Halloween, where the general public tuned in for either a treat or a trick. Now a new date, 12th December, will hold the next General Election. And advocates are using it to platform key issues at the heart of the Private Rental Sector (PRS): a newly tooled renter “manifesto” has emerged.
The authors, a collection of voices from around the UK, have laid out a public manifesto, which has become a sort of sharp political instrument ahead of this upcoming General Election. For a gentler imagination, the manifesto is a swift call for “justice” for renters discouraged from the property market. Its proposals, in a broad sense, build into an optimistic vision for the PRS: to find this justice for private renters uneased by economic anxieties, at-times tricky regulation and much more.
A few of its major talking-points include a proposal to work against harsh evictions. An overall theme, getting mileage in the press, asks for a bettered rent experience and a wider management of the UK housing market and its resources. The proposed outcome, according to the Residential Landlord Association (RLA), would materialise as an organised, pragmatic, if positive, agenda for renters and landlords alike.
Why, exactly, is a manifesto important now?
Historically, a manifesto, which details motivations, aims and attitudes of a group, is a political gesture, or device, intended to provoke social change. The basic tenets of this new material, a heated response, comes at a time many see as opportunistic to reform how private rentals work. It’s a calculated move to seize momentum from the General Election and redirect some focus at the growing marketplace of the PRS.
This curious study of language is revealing. The more mobile persona of the modern homebuyer, who privately rents, is too easily grouped into the colloquialism of a kind of “generation” of people – a casual frame that has been used before to describe social habits found in those of a similar era. Generation Rent, detailed as the next influential resident in the UK, has in recent history delighted the attention of the mediascape with articles about the state of the domestic housing market. Speculation – a far cry from science – is predictive, firm, but easily muddled, if imprecise when forecasting what the future might hold for homebuyers looking to the market.
The manifesto, or its language, is a positive reframing of the ongoing conversation around the PRS. Whereas the coverage has tended to lean on pessimism – what might be called fearmongering – this manifesto marks an unusual departure from the self-same narrative of the PRS as a faulty enterprise. Rather, a brighter spin, something that feels like optimism, has begun to shape how we all should be talking about Generation Rent.
Aside from hopeful language, the manifesto is a vehicle of force and conviction. It shows, through powerful statistics, how the makeup of the everyday British family is shifting to favour privately rented properties, especially with the sharp rise of the sharing economy. About a quarter of families, within a wide sampling of British households, lives in private rentals. The enormity of the PRS, and the scale of the industry, has become a talking point too large to ignore.
The general talk of the media has the PRS figured as a quickly booming culture within the UK economy. Often citified regions, the likes of London and the South East being the largest, are driving the charge for most densely rented territories. The PRS is not, however, the only pocket of new growth. With a steady urban crawl, cities such as of Manchester are building-up; skylines are emerging in response to new metropolitan-like lifestyles just as horizons spread. A BBC report compares this favourably to a “renaissance”, noting a change in “how people want to live”.
And, recently, the story thickened when, in retaliation to pressures, the Labour Party abandoned its plans for its own styling on a “right to buy” scheme that enabled renters to bid on ownership for their properties. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party appears quiet on the subject. Whilst neither party has detailed an official position yet on the PRS, they both seem to be considering its influence, and silence is, in political parlance, a strategy.
Yet the storytelling of the media is, every so often, enlivened by the tenants who experience the PRS as a daily hustle. The project of homeownership no longer sits at the end of a linear journey through property – where mortgages made possible the dream of homebuying. Instead, the urban surge, the swell of activity and interest in renting comes as a reaction to a bundle of influences. A preference for urban dwelling, an itch which private rented spaces satisfy, is not only a millennial thing, but a growth spurred by many attracted to a certain lifestyle.
Feeling at home, for this generation, is not so much a theory of comfort, but a material reality of all shapes and sizes – and privately rented properties are taking on a more homespun promise away from being a temporary stay. A recent finding in The Independent boasted that London will “become a city of renters by 2025”. These sorts of claims are popular, where research is now prophesizing a future vision for the UK housing market that is sharply defined by its large renter population.
The renters manifesto, then, comes at a time of change, when urban growth is the latest economic fuel to a prospering UK housing sector. It reads as if a near-communiqué issued to those who could, if elected, make a change to the renting experience. Generation Rent is becoming more than a buzzword, it is a way of life.