What's the deal with the New Green Deal?

The same old mistakes are made again today by those who pull the levers.

Britain is not heading for a new economic disaster; it has sustained one long-term national and personal debt crisis. One group, the Green New Deal Group, has been consistent with its critique: economic failure caused public debt to rise and this is where the crisis lies.

The same old mistakes are made again today by those who pull the levers. Unemployment figures are down but this is sustained by part-time or zero-hour contracts and underemployment. Tony Dolphin said in 2012 on these pages: "We know there are many reluctant part-time workers because the Office for National Statistics asks those who are working part-time if they would prefer to be working full-time and 1,418,000 are currently saying "yes" – the highest number since comparable records began in 1992 and an increase of 700,000 over the last four years.”

While the number of unemployed is reduced the amount of work being done doesn't rise. Jobs aren't being created quick enough, it's just more jobs have more people working them. That's not what we had in mind when criticising employment rates.

Another mistake is bank bonuses. In the days before the Big Bang (deregulation of the financial markets in 1986), back when bankers were more trusted than the police, the NHS, and the press, UK merchant banks paid bonuses of around 3-4 per cent of a salary, while some firms only gave Christmas hampers as thanks.

In 1997 the city bonus pool hit £1 billion for the first time. Ten years later: £9bn, 4,000 bonuses of which reached above £1m, a few hundred over £5m, and twenty-odd over £10m. Even after RBS was bailed out, post-Libor scandal, bankers were paid bonuses of £7bn.

And here's another kick in the teeth: according to the figures from the Office for National Statistics, banks and insurers delayed about £700m of bonuses so as not to pay the 50p top rate of income tax.

This is where better control of banks is needed. In 2008 the Green New Deal Group argued that, in the face of economic collapse, government should not revert to type, hoping the market would fix things, but actively intervene. In their second report in 2009, The Cuts Won't Work, the group warned of complacency around freezes to inter-bank lending and the rise of high city bonuses.

Cash injections to save the world, bailouts to save the banks – these are all vindicated in theory as in practice. Quantitative easing was not able to save the country from unemployment, low wages, and low investment because in the following years we had a government that were ideologically committed to austerity. But none the less creating more money and spending more to save later should appeal.

The Green New Deal would be funded through tackling tax evasion and avoidance, a programme of Green Quantitative Easing would generate jobs and economic activity, investment would be made through bailed out banks at sustainable rates of interest, and buying out PFI debt using Green QE money would ensure no more money is wasted through it.

But where further? A local Green New Deal could fund regional and community banks which in turn invests in small and medium enterprises and lends to local people at reasonable rates of interest, putting out of business payday lenders, home creditors, and loan sharks who suck money out of the real economy and profit from people's debt.

Giving this kind of boost to high streets and local communities would provide more jobs, more money in people's pockets, and stop high roads becoming a miserable mix of pawnbrokers, betting shops, and empty fronts.

As opposed to the political status quo, the Green New Deal Group called for a Keynesian solution of more spending to meet economic crisis head-on. It feels vindicated in its decision and continues the same for today. Seeing this through at a national and local would do a great deal to improve on what this government has done so much to ruin.

Photograph: Getty Images

Carl Packman is a writer, researcher and blogger. He is the author of the forthcoming book Loan Sharks to be released by Searching Finance. He has previously published in the Guardian, Tribune Magazine, The Philosopher's Magazine and the International Journal for Žižek Studies.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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.