Britain has faced some its worst ever weather, with thousands of homes flooded once again, though the total number of flooded households has fallen compared to previous floods. However, for many households, it is just more of the same – if you’ve been flooded once, you’re likely to be flooded again and hence insurance against flooding is essential. But, if you’re an insurance company, do you really want to provide cover to a house that you can almost guarantee will flood?
The government has pledged thousands to help households and businesses recover from the damage left by the floods and David Cameron’s latest step has been to urge insurance companies to deal with claims for flood damage as fast as possible. He has not, however, said anything regarding ‘premium holidays’ for flood victims.
The problem is that the premium you are charged depends on many factors and one key aspect is the likelihood of making a claim. The more likely the claim, the higher the premium. If a household has previous experience of flooding, the insurance company will know that there is a greater likelihood of flooding occurring again and thus the premium will be increased to reflect this greater risk. There have been concerns that some particularly vulnerable home-owners will be unable to find or afford home insurance.
The key thing with insurance is that in order for it to be provided privately, certain conditions must hold. The probability of the event occurring must be less than 1 – insurance companies will not insure against certainty. The probability of the event must be known on aggregate to allow insurance companies to calculate premiums. Probabilities must be independent – if one person makes a claim, it should not increase the likelihood of others making claims.
Finally, there should be no adverse selection or moral hazard, both of which derive from asymmetric information. The former occurs where the person taking out the insurance can hide information from the company (i.e. that they are a bad risk) and the latter occurs when the person taking out insurance changes their behaviour once they are insured. Only if these conditions hold or there are easy solutions will the private market provide insurance.
On the demand-side, consumers must be willing to pay for insurance, which provides them with protection against certain contingencies: in this case against the cost of flood damage. Given the choice, rational consumers will only take out an insurance policy if they believe that the value they get from the certainty of knowing they are covered exceeds the cost of paying the insurance premium. However, if the private market fails to offer insurance, because of failures on the supply-side, there will be major gaps in coverage.
Furthermore, even if insurance policies are offered to those at most risk of flooding, the premiums charged by the insurance companies must be high enough to cover the cost of flood damage. For some homeowners, these premiums may be unaffordable, again leading to gaps in coverage.
Perhaps here there is a growing role for the government and we have seen proposals for a government-backed flood insurance scheme for high-risk properties due to start in 2015. However, a loop hole may mean that wealthy homeowners pay a levy for it, but are not able to benefit from the cheaper premiums, as they are deemed to be able to afford higher premiums. This could see many homes in the Somerset Levels being left out of this scheme, despite households being underwater for months. There is also a further role for government here and that is more investment in flood defences. If that occurs though, where will the money come from? The following articles consider flooding and the problem of insurance.
Insurers urged to process flood claims quickly BBC News (17/2/14)
Flood area defences put on hold by government funding cuts The Guardian, Damian Carrington and Rajeev Syal (17/2/14)
Flooding: 200,000 houses at risk of being uninsurable The Telegraph (31/1/12)
Govt flood insurance plan ‘will not work’ Sky News (14/2/14)
Have we learned our lessons on flooding? BBC News, Roger Harrabin (14/2/14)
ABI refuses to renew statement of principles for flood insurance Insurance Age, Emmanuel Kenning (31/1/12)
Wealthy will have to pay more for flood insurance but won’t be covered because their houses are too expensive Mail Online, James Chapman (7/2/14)
Buyers need ‘flood ratings’ on all houses, Aviva Chief warns The Telegraph, James Quinn (15/2/14)
Wealthy homeowners won’t be helped by flood insurance scheme The Telegraph(11/2/14)
Costly insurance ‘will create flood-risk ghettos and £4.3tn fall in house values’ The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (12/2/14)
Leashold homes face flood insurance risk Financial Times, Alistair Gray (10/2/14)
- Consider the market for insurance against flood damage. Are risks less than one? Explain your answer.
- Explain whether or not the risk of flooding is independent.
- Are the problems of moral hazard and adverse selection relevant in the case of home insurance against flood damage?
- To what extent is the proposed government-backed flood insurance an equitable scheme? Should the government be stepping in to provide insurance itself?
- Should there be greater regulation when houses are sold to provide better information about the risk of flooding?
- Why if the concept of opportunity cost relevant here?
- How might household values be affected by recent floods, in light of the issues with insurance?
A negative outlook for the UK economy – at least that’s what Moody’s believes. The credit rating agency has put the UK economy’s sovereign credit rating, together with 2 other European nations (France and Austria) on the ‘negative outlook’ list.
The UK currently has a triple A rating and we have been able to maintain this despite the credit crunch and subsequent recession. However, with weak economic data and the continuing crisis in the eurozone, Moody’s took the decision to give the UK a ‘negative outlook’, which means the UK, as well as France and Austria have about a 30% chance of losing their triple A rating in the next 18 months.
Both Labour and the Coalition government have claimed this decision supports their view of the economy. Labour says this decision shows that the economy needs a stimulus and the Coalition should change its stance on cutting the budget deficit. However, the Coalition says that it shows the importance the Credit ratings agencies attach to budget deficits. Indeed, Moody’s statement showed no signs that it feels the UK should ease up on its austerity measures. The statement suggested the reverse – that a downgrade would only occur if the outlook worsened or if the government eased up on its cuts. The Coalition’s focus on cutting the deficit could even be something that has prevented the UK being put on the ‘negative watch’ list, as opposed to the ‘negative outlook’ list. The former is definitely worse than the latter, as it implies a 50% chance of a downgrade, rather than the current 30%.
The triple A rating doesn’t guarantee market confidence, but it does help keep the cost of borrowing for the government low. Indeed, the UK government’s cost of borrowing is at an historic low. A key problem therefore for the government is that there is a certain trade-off that it faces. Moody’s says that 2 things would make the UK lose its rating – a worsening economic outlook or if the government eases on its austerity plans. However, many would argue that it is the austerity plans that are creating the bad economic outlook. If the cuts stop, the economy may respond positively, but the deficit would worsen, potentially leading to a downgrade. On the other hand, if the austerity plans continue and the economy fails to improve, a downgrade could also occur. The next few days will be crucial in determining how the markets react to this news. The following articles consider this issue.
The meaning of ‘negative’ for Mr Osborne and the UK BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/2/12)
Relaxed markets remain one step ahead of Moody’s move The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (14/2/12)
George Osborne tries to be positive on negative outlook for economy Guardian, Patrick Wintour (14/2/12)
Moody’s wants it may cut AAA-rating for UK and France Reuters, Rodrigo Campos and Walter Brandimarte (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation The Telegraph, Damian Reece (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating agency places UK on negative outlook BBC News (14/2/12)
Britain defends austerity measures New York Times, Julia Werdigier 14/2/12)
- What does a triple A rating mean for the UK economy?
- Which factors will be considered when a ratings agency decides to change a country’s credit rating? What similarities exist between the UK, France and Austria?
- Which political view point do you think Moody’s decision backs? Do you agree with the Telegraph article that ‘Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation’?
- If a country does see its credit rating downgraded, what might this mean for government borrowing costs? Explain why this might cause further problems for a country?
- How do you think markets will react to this news? Explain your answer.
- What action should the government take: continue to cut the deficit or focus on the economic outlook?
- Why has the eurozone crisis affected the UK’s credit rating?
With the UK economy borrowing 11% of GDP, it is undeniable that spending cuts are needed. Of course, the big question is should they be occurring now or delayed until the recovery is more stable. However, another question is now being asked. Should taxes be cut to help the worse off? David Cameron says that this is out of the question. While he is a ‘tax-cutting Tory’ who ‘believes in tax cuts’, any significant cuts in taxes specifically aimed at the poor would simply make matters worse, especially as the Coalition government is already helping to move thousands of families out of taxation altogether, albeit by increasing taxes on the better off.
“It’s no good saying we’re going to deal with the deficit by cutting spending, but then we’re going to make things worse again by cutting taxes. I’m afraid it doesn’t add up.”
Those in favour of cutting taxes include John Redwood, the head of the Tory’s economic affairs committee, who argues that they would help to boost the economy, by ‘encouraging the wealth creators and the private sector’. By reducing the burden on residents, disposable income will increase, helping to stimulate consumption and investment, which should in turn boost aggregate demand. This would be a much needed stimulus following the latest data which showed: a shrinking economy once again in the last quarter of 2010, consumer confidence at its lowest level in the past 20 years, the possibility of unstable markets should the government be seen to ‘twitch’ on the austerity drive and 57% in a YouGov poll saying that the cuts are ‘being imposed unfairly’. Public approval for the Coalition’s budget deficit reduction strategy has fallen from 53% in June 2010 to 38% in February 2010. Add to this rising inflation and unemployment and the last thing people want to hear is surely ‘No big tax cuts’.
However, the budget deficit must be tackled: now or later. Whenever it happens and whichever party is in power, spending must be cut and/or tax revenues must rise and everyone will have to play their part.
Cameron: ‘Tax cuts impossible right now’ Sky News (6/2/11)
David Cameron says major tax cuts not possible BBC News (6/2/11)
Cameron vows ‘No to big tax cuts’ The Press Association (6/2/11)
David Cameron: Sorry, but we can’t afford tax cuts Telegraph, Patrick Hennessy (5/2/11)
George Osborne faces Conservative pressure for tax cuts BBC News (1/2/11)
Nick Clegg’s tax cuts will cost £4.3 billion, says IFS Telegraph, James Kirkup (2/2/11)
Doubts mount over Cameron’s austerity drive Associated Press (6/2/11)
Sorry it is so complicated BBC 2, Daily Politics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
- What is government borrowing? Who does the government borrow from?
- Analyse the impact of tax cuts on the economy. Think about which groups will be affected the most and in what ways.
- Which components of aggregate demand will be affected by cuts in spending and rising taxes?
- ’Cuts in taxation would boost the economy.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?
- What will be the impact of tas cuts on the government’s macroeconomic objectives, given your answer to question 3?
- What are the arguments (a) for cutting the budget deficit now and (b) for cutting the budget deficit later?
It is the Bank of England’s responsibility to ensure that inflation remains on target. They use interest rates and the money supply to keep inflation within a 1% band of the inflation target set by the government = 2%. However, for the past 12 months, we have had an inflation rate above the 3% maximum and this looks set to continue. Official figures show that the CPI inflation rate has risen to 3.3% in November, up from 3.2% in October 2010 – above the inflation target. There was also movement on the RPI from 4.5% to 4.7% during the same months. The ONS suggests that this increase is largely down to record increases in food, clothing and furniture prices: not the best news as Christmas approaches. It is not just consumers that are facing rising prices, as factories are also experiencing increasing costs of production, especially with the rising cost of crude oil (see A crude story). Interest rates have not changed, as policymakers believe prices will be ‘reined in’ before too long.
However, the government expects inflation to remain above target over the next year, especially with the approaching increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20%. As this tax is increased, retail prices will also rise and hence inflation is likely to remain high. There is also concern that retailers will use the increase in VAT to push through further price rises. A report by KPMG suggests that 60% of retailers intend not only to increase prices to cover the rise in VAT, but to increase prices over and above the VAT rise.
Despite the planned VAT rise spelling bad news for inflation, it could be the spending cuts that offset this. As next year brings a year of austerity through a decrease in public spending, this could deflate the economy and hence bring inflation back within target. However, there are suggestions that more quantitative easing may be on the cards in order to stimulate growth, if it appears to be slowing next year. The Bank of England’s Deputy Governor, Charles Bean said:
“It is certainly possible that we may well want to undertake a second round of quantitative easing if there is a clear sign that UK output growth and with it inflation prospects are slowing,” Bean told a business audience in London.”
The following articles consider the rising costs experienced by firms, the factors behind the inflation and some of the likely effects we may see over the coming months.
UK inflation rises to a surprise six-month high The Telegraph, Emma Rowley (14/12/10)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.3% in November BBC News (14/12/10)
Inflation unexpectedly hits 6-month high in November Reuters, David Milliken and Christina Fincher (14/12/10)
Food and clothing push up inflation Associated Press (14/12/10)
Retailers ‘to increase prices by more than VAT rise’ BBC News (14/12/10)
VAT increase ‘will hide price rises’ Guardian, Phillip Inman (14/12/10)
Slower growth may warrant more QE Reuters, Peter Griffiths and David Milliken (13/12/10)
Factories feel squeeze of inflation The Telegraph, Emma Rowley (13/12/10)
Figures show rise in input prices The Press Association (13/12/10)
November producer input prices up more than expected Reuters (13/12/10)
Inflation Report Bank of England
- What is the difference between the RPI and CPI? How are each calculated?
- Why are interest rates the main tool for keeping inflation on target at 2%? How do they work?
- Is the inflation we are experiencing due to demand-pull or cost-push factors? Illustrate this on diagram. How are expectations relevant here?
- Explain why the rise in VAT next year may make inflation worse – use a diagram to help your explanation.
- Explain the process by which rising prices of crude oil affect manufacturers, retailers and hence the retail prices we see in shops.
- How are the inflation rate, the interest rate and the exchange rate linked? What could explain the pound jumping by ‘as much as 0.2pc against the dollar after the report’ was released?
- Explain why the public spending cuts next year may reduce inflation. Why might more quantitative easing be needed and how could this affect inflation in the coming months?
This week, we have seen some major potential changes in the UK’s welfare state. One key change involves child benefit. (see Who won’t benefit from child benefit?) However, a more recent development stems from a problem that has built up over a number of years and is not just peculiar to the UK: Pensions.
As technology advances and medical procedures improve, there has been a general increase in life expectancy for both men and women across the world. People are living for longer and longer and hence pensioners can be in retirement for over 30 years. This is over double the retirement time we used to see decades ago. Therefore, pensioners are eligible to receive their state pension or their private pension for much longer and hence the cost is becoming unsustainable.
Lord Hutton has led a review into public sector pension schemes and has concluded that public sector workers should be paying higher contributions. Lord Hutton has said that employees should be working for longer and hence retiring later. This would increase their contributions throughout their lives and also reduce the time period over which they receive a pension, hence cutting costs. There was also a recommendation that ‘final-salary pension schemes should be scrapped and changed to so-called ‘career-average’ schemes. The final-salary scheme benefits high earners and not those who make gradual progression up the career ladder. This possible change should certainly reduce the pension you are eligible to receive and hence should positively affect the sustainability of pension provision in the UK.
However, public sector workers who may face higher contributions and have already, in some cases, faced pay cuts or pay freezes, are unsurprisingly upset. They argue that accepting work in the public sector means accepting a lower wage than they could achieve in the private sector. The compensation, they argue, is the reward of a higher pension, which could be about to change. However, the independent review has found that the contributions made by the public sector do not reflect the true cost of the benefit they receive in their pension. This is likely to be a contentious issue for some time to come. Below are some articles considering this, but keep a look out for further developments.
Public sector pensions report explained BBC News (7/10/10)
Public sector pensions review: Q&A Telegraph (9/10/10)
Pensions reforms to focus on high earners Independent, Simon Read (9/10/10)
Why Lord Hutton could make public pensions bills bigger … not smaller Financial News, Mark Cobley and William Hutchings (8/10/10)
Lord Hutton: I busted the myth that public sector pensions are gold-plated Telegraph, Lord Hutton (8/10/10)
Key points of UK public sector pension review Reuters (8/10/10)
Public pensions review recommends higher contributions BBC News (7/10/10)
Public sector workers paying ‘less tax’ due to generous pension rules Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (8/10/10)
Asda closes final salary pension scheme Telegraph, Jamie Dunkley (9/10/10)
Hutton report: he’s no friend of gold-plated pensioners Guardian, Patrick Collinson (9/10/10)
Asda to close final salary pension scheme BBC News (8/10/10)
Lord Hutton: what the pension revolution means for public servants Telegraph, Emma Simon (8/10/10)
Independent Public Service Pensions Commission: Interim Report Pensions Commission, Lord Hutton October 2010
- What is the purpose of a pension? Think about the idea of redistribution.
- Why should average-career pension schemes be less costly than final-salary pension schemes? Which is the most equitable arrangement?
- What are the key problems that have led to the pensions problem in the UK?
- What are the main recommendations of the independent pension review?
- How is opportunity cost relevant to problem of pensions provision?
- Is it fair that public sector workers should pay higher contributions towards their pensions?
- The BBC News article, Public sector review recommends higher contributions states that: “The recent decision to uprate pensions in line with the consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI) has shaved 15% from the cost of the schemes.” Explain why this is the case?