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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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear