The housing market is crucial in any economy, as it provides so many jobs in related industries. It is frequently a good signal of how buoyant the economy is. With recession in the UK, mortgage rationing continuing and many homeowners having to find 20% deposits to buy a house, many would expect the housing market to be showing signs of trouble.
And to some extent this is the case. Studies on house prices have clearly shown how unpredictable this market is and prices remain 0.7% below what they were a year ago. However, in August house prices increased, recording their biggest rise in two and a half years, at 1.3%. For many, this rise was a surprise, but came as a welcome relief following the declines in previous months. Despite this rise, analysts have suggested that this trend is unlikely to continue throughout the rest of the year, as the demand for houses remains weak. Robert Gardner, the Chief Economist at Nationwide said:
“Given the difficult economic backdrop, the extent of the rebound in August is a little surprising. However, we should never read too much into one month’s data, especially since monthly price changes have been impacted by a number of one-off factors this year, such as the ending of the stamp duty holiday for first time buyers’.
So, what is behind this upward trend? Nationwide’s Chief Economist says that it could be explained by a resilient labour market, where employment has risen in recent months, despite the recession. The labour market undoubtedly has a big effect on the housing market, as mortgages do take up so a large percentage of take-home pay.
However, another key factor that affects house prices is the availability of mortgages. The Bank of England and Treasury launched the Funding for Lending Scheme at the beginning of August in a bid to make mortgages cheaper and more easily available. However, analysts suggest that the scheme is yet to have an effect. Furthermore, until deposit requirements are eased, that first step on the property ladder will remain elusive for many people. Mortgage approvals did increase slightly in July, but still remain a major barrier for the housing market to really boom.
The following articles consider this ‘surprising’ rise in house prices and the factors behind it.
House prices in ‘surprising’ jump, Nationwide says BBC News (31/8/12)
UK house prices record surprise increase Financial Times, Tanya Powley (31/8/12)
Surprise house price rise in August not indicative of market, says Nationwide The Telegraph, Emma Wall (31/8/12)
House prices in surprise rebound Independent, Vicky Shaw (31/8/12)
House prices continue to hold The Economic Voice, Jeff Taylor (31/8/12)
Mortgage approvals still subdued, Bank of England says BBC News (30/8/12)
Banks are pulling back from property – expect prices to fall Money Week, Matthew Partridge (31/8/12)
UK house prices up, as London continues surge Share Cast, Michael Miller (29/8/12)
Lending to Individuals Bank of England 2012
House Price Index Land Registry 2012
UK house prices (links) Economics Network
- Use a supply and demand diagram to analyse recent trends in the housing market.
- Why is the Bank of England’s lending scheme not having the expected impact on the housing market?
- To what extent do you think the state of the housing market depends on mortgage rationing? Which other factors are likely to affect the housing market?
- In the article from the Economic Voice, the author says that house prices holding as they are is a surprise, because of relatively high inflation and the fact that wages are not keeping pace. Explain the economic thinking behind this view.
- The Chief Economist at Nationwide has said that the future of the housing market depends heavily on what happens to the labour market. Why is this the case?
- Why have mortgages been rationed and minimum deposit requirements been increased?
- Why is the housing market so important for the economy?
The government has been under a lot of pressure to tackle the culture of binge drinking. Figures for 2006/7 show that the cost to the NHS of binge drinking was £2.7 billion per year. In response, MPs are calling for a change in government policy towards the alcohol industry, arguing that at present the drinks industry has more control over policy than health experts. So what can be done?
In a report published in early January 2010, the House of Commons Health Select Committee proposed a minimum price per unit of alcohol, tighter controls on advertising and mandatory labelling. A minimum price, the Committee argued, would reduce demand by heavy drinkers who are looking for cheap alcohol. At present, many supermarkets have promotions that involve selling cider and beer at below cost, allowing people to ‘pre-load’ cheaply at home before going out drinking. The report suggested that a minimum price of alcohol of 50p per unit would save more than 3000 lives per year and a minimum price of 40p per unit would save 1100 lives.
Dr. Richard Taylor, an independent MP and member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said:
“The evidence we took showed that minimum pricing was the most effective way forward and at the moment you can sometimes buy beer cheaper than water. Our message is that the price would be put up but only by a little for moderate drinkers. Surely that is a sacrifice to pay for the good health of young people.”
However, those opposed to setting a minimum price per unit of alcohol argue that it would be unfair on moderate drinkers, that it wouldn’t work and that it could even be illegal. Instead, they argue that that government intervention needs to be smarter. It should not target everyone, but solely those groups consuming the most alcohol. The British Beer and Pub Association suggests that 10% of the population consumes 44% of all alcohol.
It appears that the government won’t be following Scotland’s minimum price on alcohol, but will instead impose bans on all-you-can-drink deals and introduce compulsory identity checks. However, supermarket deals don’t appear to have been targeted. Successive governments have failed to tackle this problem sufficiently, but with an election approaching, will this be a proposal that is promoted?
Raise alcohol price to save lives, MPs argue Telegraph, Rebecca Smith (8/1/10)
Commons committee backs minimum alcohol pricing BBC News (8/1/10)
Campagain to tackle cut price alchol The Arran Banner (8/1/10)
Wyre Forest MP calls for alcohol minimum pricing The Shuttle (8/1/10)
Should 50p be minimum price for a unit of alcohol? Have your say BBC News (8/1/10)
BBPA: minimum price would be ineffective Morning Advertiser, Ewan Turney (8/1/10)
Cost of binge drinking doubles for the NHS rises to £2.7 billion Mirror, James Lyons (2/1/10)
Bring in 50p minimum price for alcohol, MPs urge Guardian, Toby Helm (3/1/10)
All-you-can-drink pub offers facing ban BBC News (19/1/10)
Too much of the hard stuff: what alcohol costs the NHS THE NHS Confederation, Issue 193 January 2010
Minimum pricing for alcohol essential, says Health Committee Marketing Week, David Burrows (8/1/10)
Minimum alcohol pricing ‘will affect the poor’ BBC News, Kevin Barron and Gavin Partington debate (8/1/10)
- How is the equilibrium price of alcohol determined?
- Illustrate and explain the effects of the imposition of a minimum price.
- To what extent is a minimum price likely to be effective? How is elasticity likely to play a role in the effectiveness of such a policy?
- Why could the introduction of a minimum price on alcohol be illegal and contravene European competition law?
- What are the arguments for and against a minimum price on alcohol? Explain how and why some people will gain and others will lose.
- How would a minimum price on alcohol affect government spending? Would more investment in prevention lead to a lower cost to the NHS? Explain your answer.
- Why might bans on all-you-can-drink deals be ineffective?