Una Mullally: Bad time for ads about moving back in with your parents

Bank of Ireland ad touched a nerve for thousands locked out of the housing market

There's always something distasteful about an advertising campaign capitalising on a grim reality, as Bank Of Ireland found out this week with an ad about how a customer moved back in with their parents to save for a house.

Bank Of Ireland didn’t invent people moving back in with their parents to save for a deposit. They are reflecting a reality. People are not “whingeing” and “moaning” (as perennially and contrarily-out-of-touch-for-profit George Hook’s Newstalk show put it) about the ad, they are genuinely frustrated about a housing crisis our State seems incapable of tackling coherently.

The ad on twitter - which has been removed - read: “Orla and her boyfriend stopped renting and moved back with their parents to save the deposit for the 1st home.” It both normalises this situation and reflects a reality that is unacceptable. The multifaceted housing crisis doesn’t just affect a small number of people. It is not just about poor people, or people in emergency accommodation, or the homeless - although the most vulnerable should of course be prioritised.

The housing crisis also affects people who are meant to feel “lucky” to have a roof over their heads. It affects those who previously would have had the capacity to rent a property they wanted to live in, or would have been able to save for a deposit on a reasonably priced house. That reality is very distant for hundreds of thousands of people in this country.


Moving in with one’s parents is not an option for many. Leaving aside the stress, pressure, reduction of independence and feelings of regressing, moving back in with one’s parents is also a luxury. If you are from a rural area and work in an urban area, how are you meant to move back in with your parents? Not everyone has a conveniently located and available family home with plenty of space for them and their partner and potentially their children too. Should this really be presented as aspirational?

People are also frustrated because housing stress affects our mental capacity. In 2013, Princeton University presented research that was published in the journal Science about the impact poverty has on reducing brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life. "In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night's sleep. But when their concerns were benign, low-income individuals performed competently, at a similar level to people who were well off," the research noted.

We know that financial stress makes you addled, and the research proves it. Financial stress related to housing, which is also about our security, safety, shelter, quality of life, longterm planning and so on, is even more acute. There are multiple generations in Ireland right now who are under stress because of any number of elements of the housing crisis.

Bank of Ireland are perfectly entitled to illustrate the various circumstances of lending. But the reason the ad touched a nerve is because of the context of 'right now'.

Right now, many people are at their wits’ end regarding their living situations or lack of prospects regarding housing. Right now, emigrants who want to move back to Ireland can’t afford to because of the housing crisis. Right now, we have the triumphalist narrative of how Dublin in particular will benefit from Brexit when financial workers from London move over, but nobody’s talking about where these people will live.

Right now, endless stories of substandard, cramped, overpriced housing populate conversations and social media. Right now, people with good jobs can’t afford to rent an apartment in the city they work in. Right now, nobody’s income is going up at the same rate as rents are. Right now, rents are at record highs and housing supply is at a record low. Right now, people who are renting are dreading phone calls from landlords about inevitable rent increases.

Right now, people are afraid to call their landlords about a burst pipe or a broken shower or mould growing in case the rent gets put up. Right now, there are people who are moving back in with their parents because they can’t afford to live anywhere else, never mind save for a house. Right now there are queues outside viewings. Right now property companies are asking for a month’s deposit and two month’s rent when you sign a lease. Right now, we talk about this stuff all the time, yet nobody seems to be doing anything to tackle the crisis.

So that’s why people got annoyed with a bank ad reflecting a nationwide struggle to keep heads above water, and wolves from doors. It’s not about being privileged or entitled or moaning or overreacting. It’s not about not being willing to make sacrifices to own a home. It’s about how even those sacrifices are out of reach from people’s daily realities. It’s about trying to live somewhere, and how that very basic thing has become an acute daily stress for so many.