THE BLOG
14/10/2013 07:56 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Help-to-Buy - A Poor Unloved Mongrel

Another day, another headline extolling readers to either embrace the Government's Help to Buy scheme or (more likely) to ignore it. If future historians trawl back through this era's press for a glimpse into what the press and public was obsessed with in the final quarter of 2013, it's a fair bet that Breaking Bad and Help to Buy will pretty much top the list.

But is it really quite so deserving of the ill-will most seem to direct towards it? (Help to Buy that is; Breaking Bad is astonishing...) Well yeah, probably. Certainly, for every defendant of the scheme willing to go on record with their views that 'ordinary first time buyers' will benefit from this progressive initiative, dozens are citing it as the worst example of state-supported quasi-communism we've seen in years. (Though I can't help imagining that if the scheme weren't the bastard concept of an unloved coalition, but rather the brainchild of a left-leaning national treasure - a sort of political Stephen Fry if you like - then it might have been received with a degree more open-mindedness than has been the case...)

While Cameron defends and promotes the scheme, saying it gives young people whose parents can't afford to donate their deposits the right to buy a property, vociferous opponents cite two particular flaws: most obviously, that it's likely to contribute to another dangerous house price bubble, and also that it exposes the taxpayers to property market losses, given the Government's guarantees of £12bn on up to 15pc of each mortgage.

If I'm honest though, I'm sort of ambivalent about these stated flaws. While many portray housing bubbles as the worst thing to befall humanity since Hitler's parents started feeling amorous one cold Austrian night, I'm sort of 'meh' about them. I own some properties that I bought before the last crash, whose values have respectively soared, plummeted and soared again like a rollercoaster on acid since buying them around a decade ago, and I frankly couldn't give a damn. In the heady days of 2008-9 I was no doubt worth less on paper every time I drew breath, whilst my current net worth is probably rising like a 17-year old's social status the day he passes his driving test, but either way I genuinely, honestly couldn't care less. The kind of folk who obsess about that are not the sort of people I want to be trapped in a life with, and anyway, I intend to keep my properties until I'm old and grey and need a pension, so whatever market vagaries occur in the meantime concern me none. I know that some of them even dropped into negative equity for a spell, but again, so what? It would only have affected me had I wanted to move, so as long as people adhere to the golden rule of buying a home they can see themselves enjoying for years to come, then it's all good. For just like Tom Cruise's career and the desperation of Jordan to remain famous, the property market will always, always rise again.

And what about the other perceived problem, that the taxpayer may become exposed to losses in the market, what with good 'ol Dave part-guaranteeing mortgages? Well, that's not ideal, I grant you. But folks, if this was all the tax wastage we had to worry about, I'd say we were laughing. But the truth is the possible loss of some tax spend in the pursuit of a scheme like this pales as a public funding nightmare next to... oh take your pick. Aircraft carriers? Nuclear submarines? Royal banquets? Foreign aid subsidies for countries with space programmes? Corrupt local councils? Bank bailouts that result in banks that take no heed whatsoever of the very public whose tax pounds bailed them out?! Anyway, you see my point. Even if the dice gets rolled the wrong way and we take a bit of a haircut, it's not even on page 1 of the list of things we actually ought to be getting vexed about.

You'll think by now that I'm hurtling towards a resolute defence of the scheme, but I'm actually only playing devil's advocate for a bit before settling against it. Although in a way I almost feel a bit sorry for it. It's got so few people lining up to give it a pat on the head and a few encouraging words that it resembles an unloved mongrel puppy shivering in an alleyway desperate for a bit of love. And since there's one thing I'm truly a sucker for it's an underdog, I'm almost inclined to start getting behind it. Almost, but just not quite. For although no-one without a crystal ball can really see what kind of result it's going to have, it sadly does seem like more of a 'spend-to-speculate' than a 'help-to-buy'. But my main gripe with it is this: property ownership isn't a right. It's the result of a combination of things, including hard work, frugality, ambition and, yes, some luck too. But a right it is not.

It's genuinely unfortunate if someone has the work ethic and the drive, yet can't save up a deposit, but to expect it from a state-sponsored scheme just isn't the answer. I couldn't afford the type or location of property I wanted at first, so I had to start - whilst maintaining a full-time job elsewhere - by buying a renovation project in a block I disliked, just so that I could work my way up the ladder until I could afford better. And folks, if I could do it, trust me - anyone can. It might take a few years extra, as it took me, but there's really no shortcut - if home ownership is something you yearn for, then start at the bottom, work hard and figure it out.

In Charlie Chaplin's majestic speech in The Great Dictator, he begins with "I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business." Using public funds to inject into the housing market isn't the government's business either. It's probably erred greatly by venturing down this road, for the bottom line is that injecting taxpayer money into the housing sector only really ends one way: badly. And we may not have to wait too long to see just how badly that error turns out.