Holly Cairns TD, the new Social Democrats leader begins by challenging Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “ I am a member of the first ever generation who will be worse off than our parents. This did not happen by accident. Political choices made by successive Governments have resulted in the aspirations and dreams of an entire generation being either diminished or destroyed.
Nowhere is the political betrayal of young people more evident than in the housing disaster. Skyrocketing rents and exorbitant house prices have resulted in the collapse of homeownership rates.
We are now at the bottom one third of EU countries when it comes to homeownership. The Taoiseach told a recent meeting of his parliamentary party that he was alarmed to see that figure, but was he surprised? All this happened on Fine Gael’s watch.
The share of 25 to 34-year-olds who own their own homes more than halved between 2004 and 2019, plummeting from 60% to just 27%. People can no longer afford to buy a home because they are spending all their money on rent.
Between 2012 and early last year, rents increased by a staggering 95%, while prices in the economy increased by just 11%. Rents are still increasing; there appears to be no upper limit.
The housing disaster is not just about bricks and mortar. It is about young people whose adult lives are on hold because they cannot afford to move out of their childhood bedrooms. It is about couples postponing having a family because they cannot find affordable housing. It is about the stress and anxiety that causes once happy relationships to break down. It is about a lack of hope. It is about despair and fear for the future that your life will be permanently on hold, that you could be served an eviction notice at any moment and that you will never be able to afford to do what your own parents did on just one income – own a modest home.
We know the housing disaster is a social catastrophe and it is now threatening our economy too. Today, Chambers Ireland warned that the housing disaster is the biggest threat facing small and medium businesses.
It said that multinationals are considering buying up entire housing estates. An economy cannot function when workers cannot afford to buy or rent a home, and neither can a society.
Fine Gael has been in government for almost my entire adult life. The Taoiseach’s party first promised to address what was a housing crisis in 2014. Nine years later, it is an unprecedented housing disaster. Promises have been broken, targets have not been met and lives are being ruined as a result.”
The Taoiseach responded: “I thank the Deputy for raising the question. I am deeply concerned about the fall in homeownership in Ireland. This is a country in which nearly 70% of people own their own home. I want that to be the reality for people who are now in their 20s and 30s. That is why I am determined that this is the year in which we should turn the corner on the housing crisis.
The Deputy said she believes hers will be the first generation of young people in a long time who are worse off than their parents. I have not thrown in the towel on that.
That will only be the case if we do not turn the tide on the housing crisis and homeownership, which I believe we will.
When it comes to other things that young people experience, we are doing much better. There are more employment opportunities than ever before for young people. Youth unemployment is at an all-time low. Incomes have never been higher. More young people experience further and higher education than ever was the case in the past.
Of course, the personal freedoms young people have today, particularly people from LGBT backgrounds and women, are way beyond what would have been imaginable for previous generations.
But the area in which we are letting young people down is on housing, and I acknowledge that. That is why we are doing so much work to turn it around, particularly when it comes to homeownership.
I am encouraged by the fact that last year, 16,000 young people and young couples bought their first home. That is the highest figure in 15 years.
We need to build on that and we will do so, mainly by driving increased supply of new housing, which is crucially important, and continuing to have in place the help-to-buy scheme, which has already helped more than 30,000 people, mostly young people, to buy their first homes. The shared equity schemes like First home will now help many people too.”
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