If you own a house, good news! If you don't, you may want to go read about kittens for a bit

House prices are set to rise by almost 20% in the next five years.

Savills, the luxury estate agent, has revised upwards its estimates for the growth in house prices over the next five years. The firm now expects UK house prices to average 18.1 per cent growth over the period, up from the 11.5 percent in the original forecasts published in November.

A significant chunk of the increase comes from Savills' changed forecast for this year. The company had predicted a rise of just 0.5 per cent, but now expects prices to grow by 3.5 per cent over 2013 alone. It cites the government's "Help to Buy" policy, which subsidises purchases of newly built homes, for the changes.

Lucian Cook, the director of of Savills residential research, explains:

A combination of low interest rates and stimulus measures means there is capacity for improved price growth over the next three years or so. But it comes at the price of later price growth in 2016/17 when interest rates are expected to start rising. Overall, this means that on an inflation-adjusted basis our revised forecasts indicate that prices will increase by just 2.3% over the next five years.

Help to Buy goes further than any of its predecessors in being aimed at all buyers, not just first time buyers, but we believe its primary impact will be increased transaction levels and that higher than expected price growth is a secondary impact. It needs to be considered against the context that the market remains only partially functioning. While the combined package of Help to Buy measures could add 400,000 transactions over the next three years or so, they would still remain 24 per cent below pre crunch levels.

Cook also dismisses concerns that Help to Buy could provoke a second house price bubble, arguing that the conditions which the scheme imposes prevents that. Moreover, he points out that "rising market activity has been due to increased turnover of existing debt rather than the creation of new debt that defined the late nineties/early noughties market".

That's a bittersweet caveat, however. What it means is that people already on the housing ladder are starting to buy and sell again – but that people who don't currently own a house (or, more specifically, have a mortgage) aren't getting a foot on the first rung.

Despite Help to Buy's name, the policy represents a decreased focus on first-time buyers from its predecessor, FirstBuy. To be eligible for that programme, you had to be a first-time buyer. That ensured it targeted its aid, but also led to it being a failure in the grand scheme of things, spurring the construction of just 6,493 homes as of February this year. Help to Buy, by contrast, is open to anyone buying a new build worth under £600,000.

The purported value to people not on the property ladder of the scheme is indirect. By subsidising purchases of new houses, it ought to incentivise housebuilding, which, in the long run, is what we need to get house prices down to a sensible level. But in the short term, it seems to just be boosting the price of homes which were going to be built anyway. That's good for the developers – and good for the lucky holders of subsidised mortgages – but does little to calm the fear that propertyless people have that they may never get on the ladder.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war