Mortgage subsidies – it’s not the young who win

“It is disappointing that the country cannot liberate itself from the desire to subsidise borrowing to finance house purchases,” complains Martin Wolf in his review of George Osborne’s autumn statement. “Why should the government subsidise people to speculate on property prices?”

Wolf fails to understand the logic of the new policy. It’s not the first time buyer who is really being subsidised by mortgages backed by the British government. They are simply entering an overpriced market, and taking on debt that will strangle some of them in what Wolf expects to be a ‘lost decade’.

Instead, it is those who are exiting the market who will benefit if the Chancellor’s largesse succeeds in propping up prices – that’s the elderly who are dying and passing on the proceeds from a house sale to their children (who tend to be in late middle age), or the baby boomers themselves as they downsize in preparation for retirement.

Any government policy that keeps house prices artificially high benefits the old not the young. Of course, banks will do quite nicely from government-backed 95% mortgages as well – they can relax lending standards and we all know where that leads.