My favourite coffee shop in Crieff, where I used to live, is called Java Lava. Best coffee ever. There was usually a couple of magazines lying around, the celebrity lifestyle ones, like Hello. It was the only opportunity I had to look at one of these and I usually took it. It was with some fascination that I would look at photographs of celebrity weddings and the interior of mansions. The fascination arose from the fact first of all, that anyone would want to make so public, what I consider to be private and secondly the obscenity of what must have been the vast sums of money spent. I shouldn’t mention too, the vulgarity of so much of it, but I just have!
The conspicuous consumption continues for many people, in this time of austerity for the rest of us. I don’t suppose those people who allow their weddings or homes to be photographed for the world to see, care. I wonder if they have any thought for how hard life is for so many people? Do they ever consider that by having so much, it means that others have to have less?
What about their mansions? What do they think about them? Do they have more than one property? Do any of them feel like home? What do they think when they have their home photographed? Is it a sense of pride that they have so much, to show to the readers? Is it because they think their house is particularly tasteful in how it is decorated? I wonder what motivates them to allow their privacy to be invaded in this way?
My home, especially at the moment, has always been small. It has always felt like home and has been my haven, my refuge. I never want to argue there, or the atmosphere to be any thing other than peaceful and welcoming. It has never been an investment or felt like a possession. I have never wanted it to be a showcase or have it decorated in this season’s colours. It is where I can be most truly myself.
I am sure that there are many people who feel the same as I do. My parents have lived in the same house for 36 years now and it is where they want to end their days. They won’t leave because they have it ‘the way they want it’ and it has been a family home in all that time. Many older people I know feel the same way.
Meanwhile we have problems with our housing sector. There are not enough houses available at the moment for the population. The bottom has fallen out of the market in recent times, with the result that people are finding it difficult to sell and the financial crisis has meant that others cannot get a mortgage.
We have come a long way since our cavemen days, when the imperative was to seek shelter. Over the centuries, the shelters became increasingly free standing and sophisticated, and the rich still have their piles, but to what extent has our relationship with our shelters changed in more recent times?
I think that it is a reflection of the times that we live in, that our homes have to say something about us, that we have to have up to date furnishings and increasing numbers of technological equipment. ‘Stuff’ is discarded, not because it has broken or is grinding to the end of its life, but because it is not this season’s. It has become for many, something to show off, rather than be comfortable in. The house is not bought to be a home, but as an investment.
I think that it comes back to the fact that as with everything else, these days, too many people want too much, at the expense of others. Allied to this that we live in a throwaway society where so little is actually valued and as a result we do not look after what we have. Everything is too easy to replace.
Furthermore, in thinking of our home as an investment, we do not think of the impact of this on the wider society. In the first instance it contributes to the growing gap between rich and poor in our society. Those who own their homes generally benefit from a tax-free gain as there is no capital gains tax paid on increased value on the property. In fact for money home owners, their wealth, in the value of their home, increased faster than from their employment. Those who do not own property miss out on this opportunity, creating a greater divide between the two sections of society.
Additionally there is the impact on the younger generations and their inability to get on the ‘housing ladder’. Andy Wightman in his book, ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’ points out that ‘Between 1995 and 2005, for example, those aged twenty-five to thirty-four saw their wealth fall whilst that of those aged between fifty-five to sixty-four tripled on the back of inflated residential land values’.
I am not arguing against home-ownership per se, but I am concerned that it is contributing to even greater inequalities in our society. It is not just about stopping boom and bust in our society, it is fundamentally about righting the great injustices that continues to dog our society.