Gordon Brown's press conference -- live blog

Live coverage of the PM's regular press conference

10:46am David Cameron has had his monthly outing in front of the press. Now it's Gordon Brown's turn.

Follow The Staggers from 11am for full coverage.

11:01am Brown begins with Afghanistan. He says the London conference will see new Nato and Afghan troop levels announced.

11:03am He says he's confident the economy is emerging from recession but warns that the UK and the world economy remain fragile. We must not cut the deficit this year in a way that threatens growth and jobs, he says.

11:04am Brown announces that 100,000 unemployed young people are now eligible for a guaranteed job or training programme. He says they must accept the jobs on offer or risk losing their benefits.

11:06am He says that the government's economic plans will "expand the middle class not squeeze it".

11:08am The questions begin with Sky's Adam Boulton. He asks Brown if he really believes he can trim the Budget deficit yet avoid cuts to "front-line services". Brown says that the biggest threat to the recovery is not continuing with the action the government is taking, the reverse of Cameron's position.

11:10am Nick Robinson asks if the PM can be honest about the risks of not tackling the deficit. Brown says his judgement has been proved right throughout the economic crisis. He says he is right not to withdraw fiscal stimulus now.

11:14am After Bob Ainsworth let the date slip yesterday, Brown is asked if he can confirm that the election will be on 6 May. He replies by joking that Ainsworth suggested we need to prevent the Conservatives from winning the "council elections" (also on 6 May).

11:19am Nick Watt from the Guardian asks Brown if he agrees with Alistair Darling's statement that cutting the Budget deficit will lead to the toughest spending round in 20 years. Brown insists that, unlike some other countries, his government has already made key decisions on tax rises and restructuring the economy.

11:21am Brown is asked if he is taking a big risk by giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the election. He replies that he isn't, "because I stand by all the actions I have taken". He adds that he welcomes the chance to explain the decisions the government took.

11:26am Brown is asked how the Afghanistan conference will persuade President Karzai to commit to specific measures to tackle corruption. He says that action is being taken through the introduction of an anti-corruption task force on which external advisers will sit.

He says the coalition's strategy is to "split the Taliban" by persuading mercenaries to leave the group.

11:30am The PM is asked how would he characterise the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on national security. He says the government has trebled the national security budget since 2001 and has taken legislative action to respond to the terrorist threat, though he concedes this has been "controversial". He adds that the defence budget was cut "savagely" under the last Tory government.

11:37am Bloomberg asks Brown for his response to Goldman Sachs's decision to the cap the pay of its partners at £1m. He says there is a big danger that the banks want to return to the "bad old ways", with rewards unrelated to risk.

11:41am Channel 4's Gary Gibbon asks if windfall money from lower benefit payouts will go towards deficit reduction. Brown says that the government is prepared to make "difficult decisions" and cut the deficit, but it will not be distracted by people "shouting" that we need to cut the deficit today.

11:44am Brown says that the Tories produce policy documents whose one characteristic is that they "contain no new policy".

11:46am Asked if he supports the campaign to save general election night, Brown says that the timing of the count is a matter for returning officers.

11:49am Brown refuses to confirm whether he supports abolishing the law allowing firms to force people to retire at 65.

11:56am Asked about the defence budget, Brown says there is "no danger" the Afghanistan campaign will be underfinanced.

11:57am Pressed on where spending cuts will fall, Brown says that due to uncertainty over economic growth it would be premature to allocate money to departments now.

12:00 noon A rare question on climate change. Brown is asked if some of the mistakes made by the IPCC undermine attempts to secure international agreement on climate change. He replies: "No, because I think the academic evidence as a whole leads to one conclusion: that we need to tackle climate change."

12:04pm A Middle Eastern journalist asks if Brown believes the Yemeni government is committed to tackling terrorism. Brown says that he believes the government can be trusted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.