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First time buyers continue to rise as house prices stagnate

A year of stagnant house prices has not deterred first time buyers from entering the market - but is


There has been a 1.9 per cent fall in house prices in the year ending last month, according to the Halifax house price index released yesterday. In the frequently volatile housing market, this represents a general continuity of prices year-on-year; indeed, the average house price in the UK in February was £160,118, barely any change on the £160,393 average of last April. The monthly trend reversed the gains that were seen in January, when there was a 0.6 per cent increase in prices; in February, they fell by 0.5 per cent.

These figures should be taken with a grain of salt, given their almost perfect opposition to the stats released by Nationwide earlier this month, which showed a 0.6 per cent increase in February, and a 0.9 per cent rise year-on-year

The proportion of house buyers who were entering the market for the first time increased for the second month in a row, and Halifax suggest that this increase, alongside a 7 per cent rise in the number of mortgages approved industrywide, can be put down the the scheduled ending of the temporary increase in the starting threshold of stamp duty for first-time buyers from £125,000 to £250,000 later this month. This could be encouraging some to buy before the threshold reverts to the lower level. If that's the case, we should see a corresponding fall in April, which we await with baited breath.

The historical data in the index shows how far we have to go to reach the state we once were in. The UK average house price hit a recent trough in December last year, at £159,888, but prices were lower shortly following the onset of the recession 2008/9. Once adjusted for inflation, however, the ongoing market slump is clear. In 1983 pounds (the year the index began), the average house price in January was £55,852 - and the last time it was that low was almost a decade ago, in September 2002.


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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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.