Budget 2013: the front pages

The Sun turns on Osborne but much of Fleet Street gives the Budget a cautious thumbs up.

One litmus test of a Budget is how its received by the next day's papers, so here's what Fleet Street made of it all. 

The Sun takes the opportunity to have a swipe at the government over press regulation. The irony is that George Osborne was equally dismayed by the grubby nature of the deal and the presence of Hacked Off at the negotiations.

The Chancellor backed the paper's call for a cut in beer duty but the Sun complains that wine is up by 10p and spirits by 47p, while also expressing its long-standing opposition to the increase in overseas aid ("untouched once again, workers"). 

Team Osborne will be much happier with the front page of Fleet Street's other leading right-wing title, which declares that the Chancellor "seized the mantle of Margaret Thatcher" by supporting home ownership and cutting taxes. "I nearly choked on my toast and marmite," said Osborne this morning of the paper's mock up of him as the Iron Lady.

The Guardian contrasts Osborne's populist maneouvres with the anaemic economic outlook ("growth down, borrowing up"). 

The Telegraph gives a cautious welcome to Osborne's plans to support Britain's "property-owning democracy".

The Times also splashes on Osborne's housing annoucements declaring that the Chancellor has gone "for growth" (although the OBR small print shows that the Budget is forecast to boost GDP by precisely 0%). 

The FT focuses on Osborne's political positioning, while noting that the growth forecast for 2013 has been halved (from 1.2% to just 0.6%). 

The Mirror assails Osborne for his lack of fiscal activism, invoking the poverty of the 1900s. 

The Independent shares the Guardian's verdict, rightly noting that the economic outlook darkened in every respect yesterday. The paper also notes Barclays's decision to use Budget day to hand out £39m in bonuses for nine senior staff.

Finally, the Express gives the Budget the most favourable welcome of all, hailing Osborne's decision to cut beer duty, increase the personal allowance and support home buyers. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.