When we oldies get together over an Ovaltine or two, we don’t agree about much. There is, however, one topic over which there is little dispute. None of us would want to be young nowadays. Our generation has had the best of it, enjoying lives infinitely better than our parents and grandparents.

Worryingly though, the generational escalator is no longer moving onwards and upwards. The engine of social mobility has stalled, as demonstrated by the housing crisis impacting most heavily on the young. Reaching even the first step on the property ladder represents an almost insurmountable challenge. TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp’s opinion that the young can’t afford to buy because they spend too much on coffees and Netflix is laughable. Perhaps she hasn’t heard of zero-hour contracts, job insecurity and flatlining incomes.

In Scotland, the crisis is acute in certain areas, for example around Edinburgh. The BBC’s Disclosure programme revealed the average price of an Edinburgh flat has risen from £164,000 to £236,000 since 2011. At the same time, rents have soared, driven higher by buy-to-rent and Airbnb. Ten years on, the social housing waiting list is not uncommon. My granddaughter, currently on a placement in Leith, is paying an eye-watering rent for a one-bedroom flat. There’s little prospect of youngsters like her saving even a minimum deposit when shelling out hundreds of pounds in rent every month.

Government initiatives such as First Home Fund helped thousands of first-time buyers, but were too short-lived or restrictive to make a lasting impact. That makes it even more important to meet its 2032 target of 110,000 affordable homes, 70% for social rent. I’m not holding my breath.

Research by the Resolution Foundation offers little comfort for young, would-be home owners. According to the foundation, around half of millennials, born in the 1980s and 1990s, will still be renting in their mid to late 40s. Around a third might still be renting when they reach pension age. A Lloyd’s survey of 18 to 34-year-olds was equally discouraging. Only 20% had a mortgage and 16% were still living with their parents, usually unwillingly. A further 10% had largely given up, believing they will never own their own home. Around a third believed an inheritance would be their only route to property ownership.

The surveys confirmed inherited wealth now makes a bigger contribution than earnings to someone’s resources spread over their lifetime. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has highlighted the importance of having better-off parents and the “intergenerational persistence of wealth”. It’s therefore the offspring of wealthier parents who are most likely to be property owners by age 30. That’s all very well for those who have richer parents and grandparents, but where does that leave those with no prospect of inherited wealth?

The unfairness and dangers of that situation are obvious and strikes at the very heart of a society based on merit and hard work. Alan Milburn, former Labour minister and chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, points out that the “rungs on the social mobility ladder are growing further apart”. The persistence of wealth inequality, especially in terms of property ownership, is creating an “us and them society”. The feeling of being left behind has already contributed to the rise of populism and may well have been a major factor in the loss of Labour’s so-called Red Wall. It’s possible the housing crisis will produce a generation of highly discontented and detached young people.

Yet, it’s a crisis that can be solved, as was demonstrated in the years after the Second World War. During the war, around two million British homes were destroyed, making many millions homeless overnight. It simply became another challenge, amongst a great many others, for Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government. Between 1945 and 1951, one and a quarter million new council houses were built, many prefabricated and erected on site - the difference being Attlee’s government had the vision and above all, the will to solve the problem.

A similar approach to the current crisis would see the development of a national strategy with a focus on the young, greater use of modern prefabricated building techniques and stronger regulation of the rental market. As Attlee himself might have put it, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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