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Keep your mitts off my house! As ministers urge older homeowners to free up space by downsizing, a furious BEL MOONEY speaks up for her generation
You can almost picture the scene. An officious young civil servant in the Ministry of Housing, still working from home in his scruffy trackies, munching Jaffa Cakes before working them off on his trusty Peloton — and racking his brains to come up with the next bright notion to solve the nation’s problems.
And bingo! We need more homes, so as well as concreting over vast swathes of beautiful countryside to erect expensive little boxes in dreary rows, how’s about we go after the selfish oldsters again? Isn’t it time we encouraged them to downsize?
After all, those annoying baby boomers can’t possibly want space — just stick ’em in a little room with the TV remote and the old dears won’t mind at all…
Under proposals currently being considered by ministers, pensioners who downsize could benefit from stamp duty cuts to free up properties for younger people.
Officials in Whitehall have suggested doing more to help the young by persuading older people to move out of their family-sized houses and into smaller homes better suited to their ‘needs’.
Under proposals currently being considered by ministers, pensioners who downsize could benefit from stamp duty cuts to free up properties for younger people
Last November, a minister said he wanted to encourage elderly people ‘rattling around’ in houses too big for them to downsize. Chris Pincher, then Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, told the House of Lords that almost four in ten properties are ‘under-occupied’ and could be better used by younger families with children.
But who the hell is any government official or arrogant MP to instruct people what type of home is ‘better suited to their needs’?
How can they possibly adjudicate the individual needs of private citizens in their own homes?
Yes, of course we all share essential requirements for heat and food, and everybody knows how worrisome they can become, especially now when the cost of living is rocketing. It’s also an inescapably hard fact that many people live in overcrowded circumstances.
But this contentious issue is about property-owning. It questions the moral right for older people to domestic space we have paid for, over many years, from taxed income. I reckon I’m speaking for many of my generation (and younger) when I say: ‘Mind your own business, ministers, and keep your mitts off my house!’
Of course, many people do reach an age when they want to downsize — and perhaps release some money for holidays, gifts to the grandchildren, or increasing the pension pot. I have friends and relatives who happily made that choice and love their smaller flats, requiring less housework and involving smaller bills. Fine.
Chris Pincher, then Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, told the House of Lords that almost four in ten properties are ‘under-occupied’ and could be better used by younger families with children. But who the hell is any government official or arrogant MP to instruct people what type of home is ‘better suited to their needs’?
But suppose this idea of giving a stamp-duty incentive to downsize became policy and tempted more people — what of the practicalities? Would it mean that senior citizen downsizers offload their four-plus-bedroom places that the youngsters can’t afford (there are, after all, market values) only to see them bought by people just slightly younger than themselves?
And do the pensioners, in turn, snap up the available smaller homes that the younger generation are more likely to be able to buy? How is that going to work?
Then there is the question of bills. If you live in an old rambling farmhouse, as we do, you know how it leaks heat. Each autumn my husband seals certain windows with masking tape, because it’s the only thing to do. The old windows can’t be replaced because this is a listed building.
We switch off lights and turn off the heating in upstairs rooms we’re not using. Which happens to be none at the moment — because my daughter, her husband, two children and dog are all living here, too. This is the third time they have found a lengthy free berth with us while between houses or (as now) completely renovating. Luckily, we have four bedrooms, so this is possible. And they are so welcome.
That brings us neatly to another issue. Families change over years and young people who leave the nest might well return one day, for various reasons.
Sadly, relationships can break up and an adult son or daughter may take refuge with parents for a while as they try to rebuild life. Other problems can arise, such as redundancy or a need to retrain. You don’t expect such things to happen, but if you have space, most parents will (perhaps regretfully) share it with the offspring they thought had left for good.
Then there are the grandchildren. Many helpful grandparents gladly shoulder some childcare and host sleepovers, waving happy parents off for a rest while they wrestle screen and bedtime issues with two or three grandchildren.
So what exactly is an ‘under-occupied’ house? Those with no imagination (and I count many politicians in this group) who assess life according to simple cost-benefit analysis will suggest four bedrooms are obviously too many for a 50-plus couple still living in the family home. But who says so?
Plenty of older people find a new lease of life in spreading out in the wonderful place they have saved for and carefully maintained for decades.
I have a friend who was able to develop her much-loved hobby of painting, once her three children had left to create their own lives. She turned a bedroom into a studio — and now sells her work in a yearly exhibition.
After retiring from a very stressful job, another friend turned a bedroom into her very own retreat for meditating, online courses, sewing, and just lounging about listening to music.
A home study is the obvious use for a ‘redundant’ bedroom — a place to start the Open University degree at last, or continue with the online language course while your other half is downstairs covering their eyes watching Silent Witness.
People who have paid for their homes over many years can suddenly enjoy it in a different way, as they finally find time and space for interests, old and new.
I stated that we have four bedrooms, but technically it’s six. My husband uses a small room on the attic floor as an essential office. The other two rooms up there are for the family.
Meanwhile, I have created a dressing and exercise den in a room which the previous owners’ alterations made unsuitable for a bedroom, as it has no access at all to any bathroom. It’s where I listen to CDs while putting on my slap — and the only ‘rattling around’ that happens is a version of Shake, Rattle And Roll!
Are we supposed to feel guilty for such pleasures? It’s one thing to feel grateful for good fortune — but at the same time, you remember the half century of hard work that brought you here.
For many of us people, the family home becomes the hub for all generations. That’s how I like to think of ours.
Family gatherings are (you hope) building up a memory-store for grandchildren who treat your house as if it were their own. Like countless others, we find that maintaining a family base is really important for everyone’s morale and mental well-being.
Now that my parents are dead, it warms my heart to think of how they enjoyed four-generation birthdays, Christmases and Sunday lunches around our dining table.
Sometimes it feels as if the happy times this home has experienced are recorded on the walls, making the farmhouse a magical repository for invisible happiness.
How can you put a price on that? How could anybody call us ‘selfish’ (as some do) to think that since life is short, we deserve to hold on to what we’ve earned — for as long as possible?
One of my friends has been talking about downsizing for a few years, since her beloved husband died. ‘I know I should,’ she sighs, ‘but I have so many friends in the village and …’ Her voice tails off but I know what she’s thinking.
Her late husband is buried in the churchyard just next to their home of 44 years and so it would be a wrench to leave.
This ageist society can be hateful. I remember the revulsion I felt in 2016 when younger people gloated that the old dinosaurs who had voted to leave the EU would soon die off — and thank goodness.
‘Boomer’ is a term of abuse from young Left-wingers who can’t stand to think we might cherish values they despise.
They don’t understand that we are perhaps greater than we seem. That our hearts still need space to thrive in?
Shakespeare’s magnificent tragedy King Lear is about an unwise old monarch who decides to give everything away to his daughters — as long as he can still be welcomed by them, along with his retinue. When the two cruel daughters ask why he needs even one servant, he bursts out; ‘O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous.’
Lear is saying that we all ‘need’ more than it may seem — and if you reduce life to basics then ‘man’s life is cheap as beasts’.
Don’t count our rooms. Don’t tell us how much space we need. Don’t dare to reduce our lives to your cheap formulae about who needs what — and why and when. At this moment what I would really like most of all is to upsize. There is no age limit to needing space to grow.
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