Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. For failed asylum seekers, life on section 4 is a nightmare worse than Kafka (Guardian)

Britain's ability to offer sanctuary is being stifled by a home secretary eager to back up her tough talk on human rights, says Zoe Williams. 

2. We must shine a light into our secret state's dark corners (Daily Telegraph)

Britain's complicity in torture must be disguised by the new Justice and Security Bill, says Peter Oborne.

3. The guilty secret behind a private education (Times) (£)

Why do public school heads feel hated? Because they offer an immoral advantage that is getting ever more exclusive, says David Aaronovitch.

4. Mali could make France governable (Financial Times)

Intervention may benefit the beleaguered François Hollande, writes Dominique Moisi.

5. Why fixed terms parliaments are a nightmare for leaders and a gift for rebel MPs (Independent)

Conservative MPs can plot and stir because the next election is still years away, writes Steve Richards.

6. Dangerous mission creep in Mali (Independent)

With barely a blink and certainly no debate in Parliament – nearly 400 British military personnel are to be sent to the region, notes an Independent leader.

7. The SAS: a very special force (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron has promised to increase rather than cut defence spending after 2015, writes Con Coughlin. That’s just as well, because he needs his special forces more than ever.

8. Theresa May has simply got on with the job of police reform (Guardian)

The home secretary has seen through serious reforms of the police that others dodged, says Martin Kettle. If her luck holds the rewards could be great.

9. Yes, Poles are wonderful, but for Tony Blair to be feted for letting them flood into Britain is a sick joke (Daily Mail)

Blair should receive a badge of dishonour for undermining British workers, weakening public services and ignoring the interests of his own people, says Stephen Glover.

10. Corporate tax posturing should stop (Financial Times)

Companies are complying with laws that governments could change if they wished, writes John Gapper.

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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.