Current Affairs: Will our kids end up ‘stuck’ in their hometowns?

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A new report released last week found that more young people are getting ‘stuck’ in the places they grew up, because they can’t afford the higher rents in bigger cities.

The study, by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, found that the number of young people in private rented accommodation who moved for a new job has almost halved in 20 years. It’s thought that rising rent costs – which haven’t been matched by a corresponding, sufficient rise in wages – mean it’s often not worth the while of young people to move out of the smaller towns and villages they were raised in in order to further their careers and prospects. They simply can’t afford to.

This story struck a chord with me, as I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my own hometown – where I currently live after several years away – and how I feel about raising my kids in the place I grew up.

At 18, I left my hometown for the first time to go to university. Despite it being a stereotypically dead-end northern city, I remember I wasn’t actually itching to leave, perhaps because it felt like my life was about to change before I was ready, when the novelty of living there as an almost-adult hadn’t yet worn off.

I returned to my hometown for a year or two in my mid-20s, then moved again, first to London, then to Sydney, Australia. I’d been lucky enough to be able to move to London because the rent at the time wasn’t ridiculously expensive, and my job paid slightly more than the one I had in Yorkshire.  

After several years away, I returned to my hometown again in late 2012 and I’ve been here ever since. I met my partner, our son was born here and his sibling is due in the next two months.

There are numerous benefits to being back home: my son’s relationship with his grandparents, who live ten minutes away, and low living costs being just two of them. I am grateful every day to have my parents’ hands-on support. Yet there is no denying that there are far fewer opportunities for young people – indeed for anyone – here, in comparison to the bigger cities I’ve lived in. (I wrote here about wrestling with thoughts of bringing my children up elsewhere.)

And – apologies for the cliché – if I’d stayed here all my life, I’m sure I’d be a different person. Living somewhere that feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable can be terrifying and is also what life is about, for me.

Of course, that’s not to say that it is vital for everyone to move and to experience living elsewhere. Plenty of friends and relatives have stayed in our hometown, have got good jobs and live very comfortable lifestyles; they’ve avoided itchy feet. When my son’s older, I expect I will encourage him to go have the time of his life in a different city – while half-hoping he’ll stay close by forever.

I’d hate for him to be trapped here due to financial reasons. Moving away isn’t for everyone, but it’s depressing that today’s young people are being priced-out of the option.

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About Laura O'Donnell

Laura is mum to Ted and partner of Graham Norton (yes really, and no, not that one). Laura left a glamorous life working in PR – first in London, then Sydney, Australia – to return to her less glamorous hometown of Hull, Yorkshire. She set up a PR consultancy and writes a column in Hull Daily Mail, which used to be about culture and going out; it’s now about culture and attempting a social life with a sleep-averse one-year old. Laura blogs at Only Teethin’, loves good guitar pop music and can be bought with donuts. Find her on Instagram @TheLauraOD.

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