Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The young are doomed – and only the old can save them (FT)

Twentysomethings are being forced to delay adulthood, writes Chris Cook.

2. The Paul Flowers affair confirms it: 2015 will be a dirty election (Guardian)

From the Co-op to Mid Staffs, the Tory smear machine is operating at full throttle – and it won't relent till polling day, says Jonathan Freedland.

3. Slavery wasn’t abolished two centuries ago. It thrives in Britain today (Times) (£)

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing human international crime. We need a Modern Slavery Act, says Lucy Maule.

4. This obsession with Ethics is one of the great curses of our time (Telegraph)

Charles Moore: Paul Flowers and the Co-op Bank thought they were so good they couldn’t possibly be bad.

5. Iran can be made a force for Middle Eastern peace (FT)

Tehran wants to end the sanctions and to be seen as a legitimate Middle Eastern power, writes David Gardner.

6. 180 years after abolition, why is it the slave trade is booming? (Guardian)

We equate slavery with a bygone age. But as the case of three women found in a London house shows, it is far from dead, says Danny Smith.

7. China: now an example to the world on climate change? (Telegraph)

The climate change talks in Warsaw are going nowhere - but in the real world China and the US are both finally taking action to curb coal-fired power stations.

8. Why India Is Going to Mars (International New York Times)

The red planet isn’t just about horoscopes. We can live with superstition, and science, writes Manoj Kumar Patairiya.

9. 'Hutching up' – how London's housing crisis has young people at it like rabbits (Guardian)

Harriet Walker: Unaffordable rents mean couples are choosing to live together too soon, or doomed to stay together to avoid the misery of flatsharing.

10. A universal income is not such a silly idea (FT)

The concept of paying people to sit around has an upside, writes Tim Harford.

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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.