Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from today's papers.

1 Second-class Europe? What’s the point of it? (Times)

‘Associate’ membership solves nothing. Our trading partners will still want to meddle, europhobes will still want out, writes Matthew Parris.

2 Richard Nixon’s dark side has obscured his greatness (Telegraph)

A hundred years after his birth, it is time to reassess the legacy of the disgraced US president Richard Nixon, argues Jonathan Aitken

3 It’s the shameless doublespeak that makes politicians look like liars (Independent)

With the public already disdainful of politicians, how can so many continue with the tactics of public obfuscation and diversion, asks Damian McBride

4 It wasn't Labour who spent too much, it was the banks. How did we forget this? (Guardian)

It's only five years since the financial crisis broke, and already the truth of why it happened has been rewritten, says Deborah Orr.

5 The Europe speech Cameron should give (Financial Times)

The prime minister is to make a long-awaited address. Here is a suggested draft, from Janan Ganesh.

6 Wake up and smell the coffee (Times)

Look around a Starbucks now and it resembles a drop-in centre from 1989, writes Caitlin Moran.

7 It's time to revive the memory of Hugh Gaitskell, the best Labour PM Britain never had (Independent)

There were paradoxes in the life of Gaitskell, yet the man himself was much less complex than his place in Labour's folk memory, writes Donald MacIntyre

8 Israel's shift to the right will alienate those it needs most (Guardian)

Ahead of the Israeli elections, ultra-ultra-nationalists are surging in the polls. But diaspora Jews might recoil from their views, writes Jonathan Freedland.

9 India’s daughters come fighting out of purdah (Times)

Signs of women’s oppression are everywhere when you travel around. But this tragedy can mark a turning point, argues Rosie Millard.

10 A year for the Tories to restore their reputation (Telegraph)

The Conservative Party must do all it can to fix the economy, however radical the measures and whatever the impact on its short-term popularity, argues a Telegraph leader.

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 was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.