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Gen Z want to buy houses, smoke weed and do crimes, report finds. What does this mean for UK's future?

Some eight in 10 members of Gen Z want to buy a house – but as prices soar, many feel the political process is failing them

A new report has revealed Gen Z views on housing and protest. Left: Wiki commons, Alisdare Hickson. Right: canva

A popular phrase preaches the virtues of ‘listening to your elders.’ But as Gen Z come-of-age, politicians will soon have to do the opposite.

By 2030, Gen Z – the demographic born between 1997 and 2012 – will make up a quarter of the electorate.

As they come of age, a ground-breaking new report has examined the cohort’s political views. It reveals what experts have described as a “strange mix” of “traditional aspirations and ultra-liberal views”.

Society Watch 2024 – published by National Centre for Social Research – quizzed Gen Z respondents on housing, social care, and law and order.

Some eight in 10 members of Gen Z, also known as Zoomers, want to buy a house – but they face the “biggest gap between housing aspiration and reality” of any generation.

The chasm could drive them to civil disobedience – but it could also lead to disillusionment and disengagement, explained Bernard Steen, one of the report authors.

“Unless something changes quite significantly, Gen Z, are going find it much harder to get onto the property ladder than previous generations,” he said.

“You’re heading for this situation where you have a very big chunk of the population who are finding it increasingly difficult to buy their first home… how that plays out politically remains to be seen.”

What do Gen Z think about housing?

For most first-time buyers, it’s getting harder and harder to get a foot on the property ladder.

In 2022, the average house price in England was £275,000, and the average annual household income was £33,200. The average household could expect to spend about 8.3 times their annual earnings purchasing a home, compared to just 3.7 times their annual earnings in 1998.

“Gen Z are in a particularly financially precarious position at the moment, at least compared to other generations… and [there is] perhaps a feeling that there is wealth around and it’s not accessible to them,” Steen said.

Most still want to purchase a home – a trend Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, at least partly attributes to the dire state of the rental market.

“If there were better options in the rental market, I suspect people would be slightly less obsessed with getting on the housing ladder,” he told the Big Issue.

Unsurprisingly, Gen Z want the government to provide support for renters. For example, where rent is increased to cover the costs of insulating a home, more than half of Gen Z (53%) felt welfare benefits should increase to cover the difference. This was compared to 39% of millennials. They support building new homes in their area at higher rates than any other generation.

The failure of politicians to deliver could be bad news for the political process, Bale explained, as young people become “increasingly cynical” about “empty promises” made by politicians.

“It’s a really worrying trend. Voting is a habit that is formed when people are young,” he added. “If they don’t develop it, it’s unusual for them to develop it when they get older.”

Turnout at the 2019 general election ranged from 47% among 18 to 24-year‑olds up to 74% among over-65s. Politicians who want to re-engage and capture the vote of Gen Z need to offer some sort of housing hope, Bale said.

“It’s difficult to predict the way that things will go. Younger people aren’t voting, the data shows, and there’s concern that people are opting out of the political process because they don’t believe it will deliver for them,” he said.

“Parties will have to do something about the housing issue that goes beyond empty promises… but unless they build more social housing to rent, it’s like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it.”

What do Gen Z think about law and order?

The report outlines this threat that people will “give up” on a political process that isn’t offering solutions. There’s another option, too – that they’ll “get stuck in”.

“Our data shows that Gen Z hold strong moral convictions, which they are willing to voice loudly and confidently,” the authors stress.

“Given their views on civil disobedience, [Gen Z] may make their housing demands increasingly heard.”

Just 16% of this generation think the law always ought to be obeyed, even when it’s wrong. And 43% of think that it is important citizens engage in acts of civil disobedience when they oppose government actions, compared to 33% or less for Gen X, baby boomers and the Silent Generation.

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Younger people also strongly oppose restrictions to the right to protest. A mere 17% of those aged 16 to 24 (all of whom belong to Gen Z) supported extending current powers to set start and end times and noise limits on processions and static protests. This compared to 57% of those aged 50 to 64, and 74% of those aged 65+.

All of this could lead to increasing demands for housing provision, Steen speculated – but it’s hard to say just yet.

“Time will tell whether [Gen Z] disengage or really get stuck in… either of those things could happen,” he said.

What do Gen Z think about drugs?

Nonetheless, politicians ought to take note of Gen Z beliefs. Baby boomer and Gen X precedent suggests that Gen Z’s more liberal views will stand the test of time.

“Relatively speaking, a generation’s position on the [liberal-authoritarian] spectrum doesn’t really change that much as they get older,” Steen explained. “It’s created in their formative years and tends to stick around.”

Some 80% Gen Z support the legalisation of cannabis, with varying levels of conditions. And while two in five adults (39%) believe that censorship of films and magazines is necessary to uphold moral standards, in Gen Z it’s only one in four (25%).

Such liberal values could contribute to a “countercultural shift on a level with that experienced by their Baby Boomer grandparents in the 1960s, who experienced radical reforms to laws on capital punishment, divorce, contraception, homosexuality, gambling, and censorship within a decade”, the report concludes.

What do Gen Z think about welfare and benefits?

Gen Z also want a progressive approach to funding adult social care. The report finds that they are more likely to support the idea that the most well-off in society pay the most, whether that’s through general taxation or individual contributions.

Gen Z is the only generation where a majority (59%) want to see the government pick up the whole of the adult social care bill. Just 6.8% consider themselves to be ‘anti-welfare’ – compared to 22% of millennials and 24% of Gen X.

However, they are not always certain about where this money should come from. Other research cited in the report suggested that only 40% of them want the government to increase taxes to spend more on the NHS – the lowest of any generation except for millennials.

“They want to increase spending, but they aren’t sure where the money will come from,” Bale said.  “Younger people are no different to older people in that respect, we all want to have our cake and eat it too.”

Nonetheless, politicians reading the report ought to take note of Gen Z preferences. Even if downward voting trends continue, they will still be a substantial portion of the electorate, and have the potential to dictate a large part of the political agenda.

The report reveals a “strange mixture of traditional aspirations on homeownership, and, ultra-liberal views on quite a lot of kind of social and legal issues”, Bale said.

“If I were a Conservative politician reading this, it would make me think again before going far down this culture war route, and stranding myself away from younger voters. If you go too far you can’t make it back,’ he said.

“If I were a Labour politician, I would thing very seriously about upping the offer on housing, and actually doing something about the terrible state of the rental sector… In the first term of a new government, it would be enough to offer people young hope, let alone a solution. Because at the moment, they haven’t got much hope at all.”

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