When I was in my early twenties, I was able to buy my own property. I wasn’t earning a fortune, but it was enough to get me a one-bedroom flat, funded by a mortgage at two and a half times my salary.
Today, few young people – and increasing numbers of older ones, too – can do this. Sadly, this is especially true of teachers, particularly in London and other big cities.
We know that no one goes into teaching for the money. Like many other public sector workers, those who choose to teach usually do so in the full knowledge that they will earn substantially less over their career than if they had opted for a different, more lucrative, occupation in the private sector.
But for providing a public good, they expect, quite rightly, some things from society in return: job satisfaction, respect for what they do and to earn enough money to one day be able to buy a home.
However, this contract between society and teachers is at risk of breaking down. Teachers may have just about come to terms with the idea that pensions – traditionally one of the perks of working in the public sector – are less generous these days. But what they are now increasingly finding is that the prospect of home ownership is also being taken away from them too. And not only that, increasing numbers are on the verge of having no home of their own at all.
Teachers threatened by homelessness
The charity Education Support Partnership says that the number of teachers it has helped who have been threatened by homelessness looks set to double this year.
One of those, Tara, an English teacher in Bath, was almost left without a home for her and her children by the combination of an insecure tenancy, weak pay growth and soaring property prices.
The fact that someone doing a job that requires not only a degree but (in the main) a postgraduate degree, too, could almost lose the roof over their family’s head shows something has gone very badly wrong.
What is even more shocking is that Tara is an experienced teacher near the top of the main pay scale in an “outstanding” school. Her pay can’t progress much further, so she’s resigned herself to the fact that the private rental market – let alone home ownership – is now off limits to her.
Despite also working as a private tutor and exam marker, “I had this sudden and horrible realisation that being a teacher meant that, actually, I was being pushed out of the market,” she says.
That is not what being a teacher should mean.
This week, the Department for Education put out the results of the British Social Attitudes Survey 2016. More than half of those surveyed (53 per cent) said that they had a “great deal” of respect for teachers, just behind doctors and members of the armed forces (bit.ly/TeacherRespect).
Respect may warm teachers’ hearts, but it won’t provide a roof over their heads. We should all be horrified that there are experienced teachers like Tara out there worrying about being made homeless because not only can they not afford to buy, they can’t get rented accommodation, either.
But, most of all, it is the Department for Education that should be horrified. In the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis, it has to think more creatively about how to help teachers secure housing.
We are now asking most young people to start their teaching lives owing a minimum of £36,000. In return, the very least we owe them is the promise of a home.