When I went to live with my late husband in Balham, London, in 1994 the rent for our tiny run-down bed-sit was £85pw. That seems nothing now, but compared to my rent for a huge room in a beautiful house in Bradford at £35pw it seemed dear for what we were getting. We were both working. Bill had previously been a high-flier in Wilcox &Gibbs where he had been an International Sales Manager, drumming up custom in Japan, USA and Portugal, among others. When his marriage had broken up two years earlier he had gone off the rails, taken to drinking too much and had been encouraged to leave. He now worked for Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co in Tooting, a firm mainly buying up industrial sewing machines in bulk as factories closed down, and exporting the machines to Africa and Asia.
I had been trained and worked as a Legal Secretary, but in London at that time jobs were scarce and my experience was not sufficient for the very competitive London job market, so I reverted to working for the Royal Mail as a Postman/Cook in the local delivery office.
Bill’s children were all adults, and I had no children, nor at 40 any intention of having any. So we were two working adults, no dependents, and no debts.
As the rent seemed high I set to looking for alternatives. Either a cheaper rent, or better accommodation for the same rent. I also looked at the possibility of buying. I soon found we were paying the cheapest possible rent for the area. I looked at prices in suburbs further out, but they were more or less the same. I looked at rents outside London, but to my horror, we would have had to commute more than 50 miles outside the city to just find better accommodation at a similar price. And commuting into London is a nightmare, takes a lot of time and is so expensive it wipes out any saving on rent. I then looked at buying. I had noticed a tiny terrace and an ex-council pre-fab type of house in the area for sale. When I enquired I was told the buying price was £250,000. Outrageous! Miserable accommodation, the most polluted air in Europe, continuous noise and crowds. The price of an average house in the UK outside London and the London-blight-zone was £75,000. I considered looking for better quality accommodation but there was no better. The choice was cheap and nasty or very expensive, with nothing in between. And there was no guarantee even if we passed over the bulk of our wages to a landlord that our lives wouldn’t be blighted by anti-social neighbours, which seems to be a general problem in London that only millionaires can buy an escape from. And as for social housing, which would have given us a good-sized flat for the same rent as our bed-sit, we would never have been eligible not having children, and working, not classed as poor.
So having sussed out the situation, the best course of action was clear. Live as cheaply as possible, save, and twenty years later when we retired we would be able to buy a nice house outside London to enjoy our retirement.
Ten years on even that idea bit the dust. It seemed overnight house prices across the UK doubled. Now the average house price was £150,000. Bill and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was like someone had accessed our bank accounts and helped themselves to half. It now looked that by the time we reached retirement, we still could not afford to buy a house. That is, two working people, one on a very good salary, no dependents, no debts, living as cheaply as possible, after twenty years, could still not afford to buy a house.
It was a bitter blow, but as there was nothing we could do about it we just continued on. Then 5 years later another blow. The cost of living, again, seemingly overnight, rocketed. I sat down and did some sums. I worked out what my pension was likely to be. I then worked out the annual costs of running a house. The running costs of a house even if we owned it, would wipe out my entire pension. In other words, if I was left on my own, even if I could afford to buy a house, I wouldn’t be able to afford the running costs.
While the cost of housing doubled, and the cost of living also more than doubled, the buying power of our savings was effectively slashed in half, and our wages did not increase to stay level with the cost of living.
Two working people, no dependents, no debts, living cheaply, twenty years work and we still cannot afford a house, and if single, a pension insufficient for living costs – BUT – if house prices had remained the same as when we were earning the money twenty years ago, and if the cost of living had not gone up – we could have afforded the situation twenty years ago, and been comfortably off.
INFLATION effectively stole half our savings, half our pensions, and halved our wages.
Anybody going to London for work be warned. Unless you are on a 6-figure salary you will end up living in squalor for a wage that would give you a decent quality of life outside London. Also you will not be able to save to ensure a good quality of life when you leave London.
COST OF LIVING IN LONDON
In the twenty years my husband and I lived in London, we paid approximately £100,000 in rent – for tiny, squalid, noisy accommodation with horrible neighbours. Money that could have gone towards buying a house outside London and the London-blight zone. Most of that amount in the last five years.
In other words, my husband and I spent £100,000 to live in a London shit-hole for 20 years.