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Think industry, not property

The Help to Buy scheme has helped some young buyers, but it inflates property prices

Homeowners will be cheering the news that the housing market is warming up again after years in the doldrums – outside London at least. Figures from the British Bankers’ Association yesterday showed lenders issuing mortgages at their fastest rate for more than a year. This extra finance will inevitably feed through into house prices in the coming months. That, in turn, should trigger an increase in consumer spending, as nothing makes the British feel wealthier than a rise in the theoretical value of their property.

But rising property prices, coupled with stagnant wages, only worsen the situation for the thousands of young people for whom getting a foot on the housing ladder remains an impossible dream. Even if mortgage lenders are pushing more money out of their doors to the lucky few, they are still extremely picky about whom they are willing to lend to.

Government programmes, such as the Help to Buy scheme, have gone some way towards aiding younger buyers. But for the sake of helping a few thousand get on to the ladder, they have mainly served to further inflate property prices, making it harder for everybody else.

There is a darker side yet to yesterday’s numbers. While banks have been shovelling out loans to inflate the housing bubble, their support for businesses remains dire. Over the past six months, net bank lending to British firms has shrunk by an average of £1.7bn a month. Small and medium-sized companies are where the growth is really needed to get the economy back on track. When SMEs get capital to expand, they hire more people, train more youngsters, and pay more taxes. But it is precisely these businesses that are being most starved of funding by our risk-averse banks.

Rather than diverting people’s taxes into pumping up the property bubble, George Osborne should use it to help our best entrepreneurs, in the form of further tax breaks and loans. That way we might diversify our economy away from banking and fickle house prices.