Finding somewhere affordable to live in Britain is hard. Some parts of the country are cheaper than others, of course, but the cost of renting a home is horrendous, especially in London and the South. Normally, the only answer is to share a house or a flat: you get a room of your own, but you have to share the kitchen and bathroom. In cities like Oxford and Cambridge, where rooms are scarce, prices will make your eyes water: more than £500 a month. In London, they’re even higher – not far off £700.
Oxford already seemed expensive when I lived there, and that was almost 40 years ago. When I started work after university, my room cost £40 a month – almost 15 per cent of my salary. With today’s rents in Oxford, you’d need to earn £40,000 a year if you didn’t want to spend more than 15 per cent on your room. But when you finish university, starting salaries are usually between £20,000 and £30,000.
Apart from the cost, shared flats and houses are often in poor condition. Landlords are slow to spend their profits on repairs. I was fairly lucky with mine. The house I lived in was scruffy, but the landlord took action when needed — like the time the bathroom ceiling fell in. I’d just run a bath and had returned to my room to get something, when I heard a loud crash. I went back to find the bathtub full of wet plaster. I had the ceiling repaired and took the bill to my landlord.