EARLY noughties Channel 4 has a lot to answer for, doesn’t it? Not only did it inflict upon us Jimmy Carr, via such highbrow offerings as Your Face Or Mine? and 100 Worst Britons, it also made Kirstie Allsopp into the kind of “personality” from whom The Sunday Times can still milk thousands and thousands of hate-clicks more than two decades on from her TV debut.

Back in 2003 the channel declared Tony Blair the worst Briton of all, with Katie Price (then still going by her glamour model name Jordan) rather unfairly ranking behind him, just ahead of Margaret Thatcher. If anyone’s thinking “well, Jordan’s Eurovision Song Contest audition must count as a crime against humanity”, please note that it happened two years later.

If the countdown of villains was to be revived today, it might well feature D-listers from the Channel 4 stable who presume to tell young people what joys they should sacrifice, and people in general that they’re Philistines if they can’t take a joke about the Holocaust.

But while it’s easy to mock Allsopp for suggesting young people today are spoiled – when she herself was born into privilege and didn’t have to scrape together a flat deposit – it’s important not to miss the bigger picture. The very headlines screaming in outrage about Allsopp’s comments, which appear to suggest that anyone can get on the property ladder if they sacrifice enough, perpetuate the kind of distorted thinking that got the UK into such a mess to begin with.

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According to the BBC, the phrase “property market” first appeared in The Times in 1981, and while it might seem like a descriptive term it’s actually a prescriptive one – and a specifically British one. It’s hard to measure the impact of growing up – as my generation did – being told that “getting on the ladder” wasn’t just a way to obtain housing security, but ultimately a way for those with a bit of money to get a lot more money for nothing.

The Channel 4 show Property Ladder launched when I was 20 years old, and dipping my toe into the rental market for the first time. I lapped it up. Its host, Sarah Beeny, took a pleasingly no-nonsense approach to steering amateur property developers through their first refurbishments. Time and time again she would caution against painting walls in garish colours or splashing out on lavish taps, knobs and light fittings, only to have these naive fools steam ahead regardless. It was great telly – a race against time with plenty of setbacks along the way, and sheepish confessions that the budget had spiralled out of control – but what it ultimately lacked was any sense of peril.

Week in, week out, Beeny would grit her teeth at the end of the show and tell a clueless couple that their property had increased in value by a significant sum despite them paying scant attention to her sound advice. In the end it didn’t really matter what they did, because the market was so buoyant that three-quarters of each episode could have shown them watching magnolia paint dry and they would still have turned a handsome profit by the time the adverts rolled.

Sometimes at the end we’d be told they weren’t going to sell the property after all, but instead rent it out as the economics of this made more sense. Now they were on the ladder, the world was their oyster. As long as someone was willing to pay the rent, they were on their way to bigger and better things – a portfolio, even. How marvellous for them. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a housing crash, of course. In 2009 the show was retitled Property Snakes and Ladders but it seems viewers weren’t quite so keen to watch folk grapple with the reality of negative equity and rejected mortgage applications. This series was the last.

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None of this was Sarah Beeny’s fault, of course. I suspect she longed to demonstrate that most of these dafties didn’t have what it takes to be real property developers. But the show undoubtedly distorted how my peers and I viewed property. When I began searching for a flat to buy, my parents cautioned against doing so too early. What if I decided to move elsewhere? No problem, I replied – I would just rent out my property until I either returned or put down roots elsewhere. Staying on the ladder was key; it was non-negotiable.

The fact that my future actions might prevent someone else from buying a home did not even occur to me.

There’s no easy solution to the current UK housing crisis, but this week’s backlash against Allsopp for chiding youngsters suggests attitudes may be shifting. Can a ban on “property ladder” talk be the next step, please? As The Sunday Times wryly pointed out in the last paragraph of its recent story, the average young person would have to forgo little luxuries like Netflix and takeaway coffees for several decades just to get a fingertip on the bottom rung. What Allsopp doubtless considers an encouraging nudge is experienced as a kick in the teeth.

It’s hard to imagine the targets of her preachy remarks would take pleasure from the boom-time property shows I lapped up in my 20s. Times have moved on, and our language should too.