THE concept of the “property ladder” was always a bit misleading.

The image it conjures is of a sturdy platform for slow but steady upward progress, safely accomplished with the help of a bank or building society that’s keeping the base firmly anchored to the ground.

In truth the business of buying, owning and selling property can involve all sorts of wobbles, from interest rate rises and unforeseen repair bills to broken buyer-seller chains that in the blink of an eye can turn the ladder into a snake and send former homeowners tumbling back into the rental market, at least temporarily.

One would hope any responsible government would seek to reduce the risk of those wobbles, by ensuring those who wish to own their own homes can realistically do so and those who cannot (or choose not to) have safe, secure and affordable rented housing options.

The cause of the current UK property crisis is – as everyone knows – insufficient supply. Insufficient supply of property, that is, not insufficient supply of mortgages to people who cannot save a 10% deposit.

For many aspiring first-time buyers there is no sign of any ladder, only a trapeze hanging just out of reach, above the unknown: unknown future mortgage rates, unknown property values and unknown future income.

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When they hear both Labour and Conservatives talk about a mortgage guarantee scheme, they might assume this puts in place a safety net. And it does – but it’s not a safety net for the buyer, it’s one for the lender. Aspiring homeowners must think twice before chalking their hands and taking a running jump.

The guarantee means the Government shouldering some of the risk of lending to someone who otherwise might not be able to get a mortgage due to their lack of savings. The scheme was brought in during the pandemic to keep the housing market buoyant amid the withdrawal of many mortgage deals that required only 5% deposits.

It’s due to end in December but The Sunday Times reports that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is planning to extend it for a further year and is exploring further options to “help first-time buyers” – i.e., to help them borrow huge sums of money.

One other option would be to change the rules for those using the contents of their Lifetime ISAs to buy a home. Funds saved in these accounts (which attract a 25% government bonus) can only be used for two purposes: to fund your old age or to buy your first property. Currently the money can be put towards buying a home (a first-time purchase, remember) costing up to £450,000.

Reportedly Hunt doesn’t think this is enough – after all, what kind of shoebox would that buy you in London and the south-east, where so many Tory voters and their offspring live? First-time buyers there need to borrow, borrow, borrow so they can spend, spend, spend and keep property prices high and the rentier class happy.

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Labour, too, are pledging a mortgage guarantee scheme “for those who don’t have access to the bank of mum and dad”, as part of what they are calling a “transformational package of reforms” to housing. The top line at their conference promised “a blitz of planning reform” that they seem to be claiming will satisfy nimbys while also quickly boosting housebuilding.

There will be fast-track approval for high-density housing on urban brownfield sites, and the next generation of “new towns” with “reliable transport links and bustling high streets”. Doesn’t it all sound great?

Well, yes and no.

It sounds great for people who want genuine “help to buy” in the form of massively increased housing supply and therefore lower prices for everyone. It sounds disastrous for those people so emotively described as lacking access to the bank of mum and dad, who are to be facilitated to borrow more than they would otherwise be able to afford, right before the massive increase in housing supply and corresponding fall in house prices occurs.

The result for them would be negative equity – a property worth less than the mortgage debt still outstanding – and potential difficulties with remortgaging or selling. If Labour really believe they are going to deliver the housing revolution they are promising, why not tell those without parental donations to hang on in there until prices fall due to increased supply?

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According to The Sunday Times, the Treasury has ruled out bringing back the Help to Buy scheme – another way to help homebuyers take on debt, this time by issuing government equity loans – on the grounds that it could prove inflationary. There’s little indication that the Tories are concerned about inflating house prices further – on the contrary, they will be concerned about the negative reaction of their core vote should prices fall.

The British preoccupation with the theoretical values of homes is as illogical as it is destructive. Will Labour have the guts to say that bringing down house prices is a policy aim, and explain to voters they should support it? We’ll see.