Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Care of the elderly: it's not too late to make Britain a good place in which to grow old (Guardian)

At this time of year as families gather, our thoughts turn to the nation's elderly and how to provide for them fairly, writes Will Hutton.

2. What does 2013 hold for the main party leaders? (Guardian)

Nick Clegg and David Cameron face more of the same. Ed Miliband's future is more complicated. He has choices, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

3. Honours list: happy for Sir Wiggo, but Danny Boyle has a point (Guardian)

Danny Boyle's rejection of a knighthood reminds us that the principle behind the list is flawed, writes Stephanie Merritt.

4. Angry? Me? How dare you! (Guardian)

Nowadays, outrage is our only mode of discourse. It is high time that we all calmed down, writes Viv Groskop.

5. Ditching their modernisation campaign was the Tories’ worst strategic error since the poll tax (Telegraph) David Cameron must address the identity crisis in his party before it is too late, writes Matthew d'Aconda.

6. It's two years away, but the 2015 election is already lost (Telegraph)

Four factors conspire to make a Tory majority an outright impossibility, writes Paul Goodman.

7. Europe, wind, warming... we're slowly waking up to reality (Telegraph)

It was the year when many long-dominant belief systems began to collapse, writes Christopher Booker.

8. 2012: A year I won't forget, for all the wrong reasons (Independent)

I can't remember when I've ended a year so angry. Goodbye 2012 and good riddance, writes Joan Smith

9. Children face cruelties of the adult world (Financial Times)

Innocence has been squandered by mindless violence and economic idiocy, writes Simon Schama.

10. Cliffhanger (Times)

America may yet step back from the brink — but its bungled handling of its fiscal crisis reflects a broader malaise that could affect us all, writes Tony Allen-Mills.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.