What is it? Dunno, really. Bed in a kitchen? But then if you took the bed out of the kitchen you wouldn’t describe the remaining bed-less room as ‘a kitchen’, because… well, it’s not a kitchen. It’s more like a living room that’s been bisected by a temporary wall into two half-rooms, and one of those half-rooms has been fitted with a kitchenette and furnished with a single bed. The English language does not yet have a word for that, but if London landlords keep this shit up then it’s going to have to. Language evolves to describe the concepts we force upon the brain. There is not yet a name for this shape, but there will be, there will be, there will be.
Where is it? Sutton, which is what happens when you fall asleep on the Northern line and wake up in Morden, but instead of turning around and going home like a normal person you keep plowing ever onwards, ever more into the south-west, until what appears in front of you is a strange demi-town: a roaring A-road between huge tranches of semi-detacheds, a weird pub-to-tanning-studio ratio, occasional gated mansions that open immediately out onto nowhere and every roundabout built up to be a complex large enough to house an ASDA. There is nothing here for you in Sutton, fool! Turn around and ask the man if you can scan back on to the Tube!
What is there to do locally? You are basically surrounded by golf courses and very large supermarkets, so I think the answer to that question is ‘live out a 60-year version of the British idyll, dwelling in the Home Counties and driving a car every day and having exactly two children, a boy and a girl, and being friends with your neighbours and making a really big deal of decorating your garden every year for Christmas, one two-week holiday a year alternating between Orlando and Dubai, getting a handshake from your father-in-law because you’re doing really well at work, wearing a gilet and spending a Bank Holiday at a garden centre because you ‘heard they do a really good lunch’, dying peacefully surrounded by your family without ever once getting a tattoo or doing a single drug or having anything up your bum for even one second or playing any games console other than a Wii, or tweeting or reading a book that wasn’t an autobiography or going a single Sunday without a roast, but you were happy, O you were happy, you were happy because you never had to know about things like “Bean Dad” or “Fred Again’s Boiler Room set” or “Bip Ling” or “Jerry Seinfeld for Kith” or “Morito in Hackney” or “extended episode of a podcast where they apologise for appropriating workwear” or whatever stupid bullshit I have to know about that gums my brain up like old machinery and stops me from ever, ever, ever feeling even one moment of peace or happiness, and yes I probably should have closed that opening apostrophe out a few sentences ago it’s just–
Alright, how much are they asking? £872.60 a month. Oddly precise, isn’t it? Oddly precise, the 60p. And the 72 pounds, rather than the 70. Why not just— why not just round up to £875 a month?
Well, I’d imagine that £872.60 is the maximum Local Housing Allowance that Sutton Council will run to for a one-bedroom Universal Credit claiming over-35, and that’s why the rent is fixed like that. It’s a good system we live in, and we’re definitely not generationally closer to the poorhouses and the slums than we are to the ‘cul-de-sacs and two-door garages’ residential dream of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. This is a fairly huge country – England is only about 9 percent built upon – and, theoretically at least, one of the world’s richest ones. It does seem very ‘insane’ to me that ‘everyone can live in a house’ seems such a preposterous and fantastical hope. After this many thousands of years of social evolution! We’re still charging £872.60 a month to live in half a living room in Sutton! Our ancestors have been failed!
With a lot of these flats, I always wonder what the spiel an estate agent might hit you with should you grace them with a viewing. And after a lot of thought I have figured that they don’t really say anything – they don’t try and describe anything as ‘bijou’, they don’t try and say something as light and airy when it isn’t, they don’t try and tell you about transport links. I think they just open the door using the fifth or sixth key they tried in the lock and then just say: Well, here it is—
Well, here it is. It’s a single bed in a kitchenette in a wider room that was probably once half of a much larger – but, crucially, not even large – room, and it has an en-suite bathroom in a dark corner with one of those special tiny sinks in it that you only ever see in flats like this. Yes, the view of the garden is alright (not actively ‘nice’, though, is it? Because it’s just some muddy lawn and some wooden fences. There is not a single plant out there that has been actively planted), but a lot of it is blocked by the huge looming wardrobe that you can only really have by the window. It is not clear if you have access to the garden in any way. Your fridge rattles around loosely in the too-big alcove that has been allotted to it. There is, of course, nothing as sensible as an oven, a hob or a washing machine. This flat offers about three of the seven essentials you need to exist in a space for more than a day, and it costs £872.60 a month to do that.
Culturally, it is a bit strange that we all shrug and go, ‘Well, it’s alright for young people to live in crappy little flats’. It’s alright, isn’t it? It’s alright for young people to live in crappy little flats. Or five of them in a house, or whatever. It’s alright, isn’t it? Because they are young, so they can survive a little crapness. They’re probably out having sex, so that’s a fair trade-off, isn’t it? It’s sort of OK for young people to live in crappy flats, we all think, for some reason. Then – unspoken – there’s an age where it’s no longer OK for you to live in a crappy flat, you’ve aged out of it overnight, and now it’s very embarrassing to live in a crappy flat. You know this, right? You also subscribe to this philosophy. The whole country does, and has done for generations.
When you’re 22: you have to live in a place that has black mould. But by the time you’ve attended a non-religious wedding of two people who are exactly your age, you cannot go back to the mould flat. You’ve scuffed it. There is a six-year period where it’s OK for you to live in shit, and then that is immediately over, and you’re somehow expected to have saved half a million pounds in that time, or something.
I am just wondering how elastic that is going to go. As mentioned, this flat is only available to those claiming LHA, in the district of Sutton, and who are over 35 and in need of a single occupier place to stay. Is this… the best we, as a developed nation, can do? Is this… is there really no way we can’t put in place at least a modicum of a regulatory system to ensure that this doesn’t happen? It’s not the fault of the council, technically – it’s not like they go and inspect every flat that LHA claimants might move into to see if it’s humanely habitable, they just stamp the paperwork and OK the Direct Debit into the landlord’s bank account – but it’s got to be someone’s fault, hasn’t it, right?
And, crucially, how high will the age range of ‘it’s OK for them to live in a crappy flat because they are not me’ going to go in our lifetimes? The rental market is in chaos, you’ve never rented a flat that was actually good in your entire life, you’re only getting older and more and more of your friends are surprisingly announcing that they’re buying a place because their dads gave them a huge deposit. You are racing, ever closer, to sleeping in a single bed in a kitchen and gazing out at someone else’s garden. We do have to do something soon before the only option for ageing millennials is to sleep on camp beds in abandoned stadiums.