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UK house prices rise by 2.2 per cent in March

The biggest surge in almost three years, according to Halifax.

House prices in the UK grew 2.2 per cent in March – up from -0.4 per cent in February – as prices continue to fluctuate, according to new figures released today by Halifax. 

Transaction levels, meanwhile, remain historically low. Property prices in the first quarter of 2012 were 0.1 per cent lower than in the previous quarter. Prices in the first quarter were 0.6 per cent lower on a year-on-year basis. The average price was £163,803 in March.

The number of completed sales rose in the first quarter; sales in January and February were a seasonally adjusted 81,000 in both months. However, market conditions have tightened slightly in recent months, driven by the increase in sales. 

The proportion of first-time buyers increased between the final quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012.

Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax, said: “House prices in the first quarter of 2012 were little changed compared with the final quarter of 2011, showing a decline of just 0.1 per cent. This was the same as the slight fall recorded between the third and fourth quarters of 2011. The underlying trend therefore indicates broad stability in UK house prices. The more volatile monthly figures continue to fluctuate as a result of the historically low level of sales volumes, increasing by 2.2 per cent in March following February’s 0.4 per cent fall.

“Efforts by first-time buyers to beat the expiry of the stamp duty holiday at the end of March have probably increased sales in recent months and may have helped to support prices.  We continue to expect little overall movement in prices this year provided that the UK economy does not suffer a pronounced weakening.”

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.