Inflation and household balance sheets

This is the second of three blogs looking at high inflation and its implications. Here we look at changes in the housing market and its effects on households. Another way of analysing the financial importance of the housing and mortgage markets is through the balance sheets and associated flow accounts of the household sector.

We used the concept of balance sheets in our blog Bank failures and the importance of balance sheets. In the blog we referred to the balance-sheet effects from interest rate hikes on the financial well-being of financial institutions.

The analysis is analogous for households. Again, we can identify two general effects: rising borrowing and debt-servicing costs, and easing asset prices.

The following table shows the summary balance sheet of the UK household sector in 1995 and 2021.

Source: National balance sheet estimates for the UK: 1995 to 2021 (January 2023) and series RPHA, ONS

The total value of the sector’s net wealth (or ‘worth’) is the sum of its net financial wealth and its non-financial assets. The former is affected by the value of the stock of outstanding mortgages, which we can see from row 3 in the table (‘loans secured on dwellings’) has increased from £390 billion in 1995 to £1.56 trillion in 2021. This is equivalent to an increase from 70 to 107 per cent of the sector’s annual disposable income. This increase helps to understand the sensitivity of the sector’s financial position to interest rate increases and the sizeable cash flow effects. These effects then have implications for the sector’s spending.

Housing is also an important asset on household balance sheets. The price of housing reflects both the value of dwellings and the land on which they sit, and these are recorded separately on the balance sheets. Their combined balance sheet value increased from £1.09 trillion (£467.69bn + £621.49bn) in 1995 to £6.38 trillion (£1529.87bn + £4853.16bn) in 2021 or from 128% of GDP to 281%.

The era of low inflation and low interest rates that had characterised the previous two decades or so had helped to boost house price growth and thus the value of non-financial assets on the balance sheets. In turn, this had helped to boost net worth, which increased from £2.78 trillion in 1995 to £12.29 trillion in 2021 or from 319% of GDP to 541%.

Higher interest rates and wealth

The advent of higher interest rates was expected not only to impact on the debt servicing costs of households but the value of assets, including, in the context of this blog, housing. As Chart 3 in the previous blog helped to show, higher interest rates and higher mortgage repayments contributed to an easing of house price growth as housing demand eased. On the other hand, the impact on mortgaged landlords helped fuel the growth of rental prices as they passed on their increased mortgage repayment costs to tenants.

Higher interest rates not only affect the value of housing but financial assets such as corporate and government bonds whose prices are inversely related to interest rates. Research published by the Resolution Foundation in July 2023 estimates that these effects are likely to have contributed to a fall in the household wealth from early 2021 to early 2023 by as much as £2.1 trillion.

The important point here is that further downward pressure on asset prices is expected as they adjust to higher interest rates. This and the impact of higher debt servicing costs will therefore continue to impact adversely on general financial well-being with negative implications for the wider macroeconomic environment.





  1. What possible indicators could be used to assess the affordability of residential house prices?
  2. What do you understand by the concept of the monetary policy transmission mechanism? How do the housing and mortgage markets relate to this concept?
  3. What factors might affect the proportion of people taking out fixed-rate mortgages rather than variable-rate mortgages?
  4. What is captured by the concept of net worth? Discuss how the housing and mortgage markets affect the household sector’s net worth.
  5. What are cash-flow effects? How do rising interest rates effect savers and borrowers?
  6. How might wealth effects from rising interest rates impact younger and older people differently?
  7. Discuss the ways by which house price changes could affect household consumption.