HEADLINES appearing on the same day can sometimes say much, even though the stories are quite separate.
Today’s accidental comparison is between news of rising student debt and a report that luxury flats in the Shard in London haven’t sold in five years.
At the launch of this priapic pile of glass-encased foreign money, developers suggested that apartments near the top of the tower costing up to £50m each would shift easily. According to a report this morning, they all appear to still be for sale.
The development was opened by the Duke of York and a former prime minister of Qatar. Ah, the Duke of York – always doing his bit to make boredom look exciting. Only last month, his Royal Dullness was burbling on about the opportunities offered by Brexit, saying: “In my experience recently, businesses that look over the garden fence have gone: ‘Hmm, [the] grass is not quite as dark and unforgiving as you might expect.”
I am guessing you can see over a lot of garden fences from those unsold pieces of lofty real estate – or perhaps ‘unreal estate’ would be more apt in this case.
Incidentally, you will almost certainly be able to see the giant burned-out tomb of Grenfell Tower: unsold apartments of grotesque expensiveness rising above a tower where people died, in effect, because they were poorly paid. What does that say about us as a country? Nothing good.
John Gummer, not a name you hear much nowadays – or possibly wish to hear – used to be David Cameron’s cities spokesman. In that role, he spoke of London’s thrusting new towers as “the vulgarity of bigness” – a phrase which has the ring of good sense. Yet that vulgar new London has raced ahead, much encouraged by former Mayor Boris Johnson.
Also rising above us – or, rather, our young people – are towers of student debt. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, students from the poorest 40 per cent of families beginning university this September will end up with an average debt of around £57,000.
The economic thinktank calculates that the abolition of the last maintenance grants in 2015 had hit the poorest students more than the richest, who will end up owing £43,000 (still more than the size of our first mortgage). And that’s not the sort of life lesson we should be teaching young people.
According to the institute, some 77 per cent of students will never pay off their loans. If so, how on earth is such a system sustainable?
Are student loans fair – and is it reasonable to tell students that it’s a good investment as they will earn more, when many of them don’t earn more at all? It doesn’t seem very fair to me.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed abolishing student loans in his party’s election manifesto. Now it is true that parties flourish all manner of dubious pledges in their manifestos – then quickly forget what they promised.
But on student loans, there appears to be a gathering momentum. And whenever the next election is held, you can bet that ending student loans will be an even hotter topic.
And you can also put money on those obscenely expensive apartments on the 53rd to the 65th floor of the Shard still being empty.