By Katherine Hill, Senior Research Associate, Loughborough University
What do we think of when we hear that more and more young adults are living with their parents through their 20s and even into their 30s? (For those aged 20-34 without either partners or children of their own, two in three a now live ‘at home’). We sympathise with those for whom high property costs and insecure employment makes moving out difficult. However, there are common stereotypes of young people enjoying the comforts of home, avoiding the responsibility of standing on their own two feet, and of their futures depending on ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ to help them afford a place of their own.
Our research focussing on the experiences of families on low to middle incomes where young adults live with parents shows that neither of these stereotypes really hits the mark. While some parents will be able to help their children with a deposit or support them while living at home, many on lower incomes simply don’t have the resources to do so. And while living together can produce tensions related to young adults taking responsibility, it can also be a positive experience. It can provide a safety net in an uncertain world, company and emotional support. Crucially, it is cheaper than living independently, and at best it can help young adults save to eventually move out.
But financial support is not one-way. Our research found that for parents who are struggling, financial contributions from young adult sons or daughters can be vital to keep them afloat. On the one hand this can be mutually beneficial, but on the other can inhibit young adults saving to move out.
Given the constraints that young adults face in finding an affordable place to live independently, we found that families can feel ‘stuck’ in less than ideal situations. Pressures on finances, lack of space and difficult relationships can add to tension for both parents and their children. Young adults we spoke to said they needed a steady job and savings before they could consider moving out – but for some this already distant prospect had become even more out of reach since the advent of Covid.
The social security system, which could potentially help these families get by, can instead add to the challenges that they face. The benefits they received when their children were ‘dependent’ are suddenly withdrawn when their child leaves secondary education. A young adult who is working can help bridge this gap but the parent’s loss of income can be hundreds of pounds a month. This is not easy to make up with low, sporadic earnings, let alone on out of work benefits. A further blow can come for families who are renting, when they get hit by a deduction to their Universal Credit or Housing Benefit for having an adult child living with them – again the expectation is that their sons or daughters make up the difference. But if the young adult is not working, they get no entitlement to housing related benefits, so are caught between having to fund a contribution from the already-low general benefits for under-25s (just £59.20 a week), or parents having to cover the shortfall from their benefits – both of which risk hardship.
Despite the jobs market recovering, young adults remain more likely to be in insecure, part-time work rather than the steady full time income that they require to set up home. With no sign of housing becoming more affordable either, living with parents is a long term reality for many. We need to recognise this and give more attention to supporting families who don’t have resources to move on. A first step would be to ease the cliff edge in the social security system when families suddenly lose support when their children become non-dependent. And the housing support system needs to be rethought so that it does not penalise the worst off families who have no choice but to live together.