You know there is a recovery underway when the critics of the economic strategy change their tune from saying “austerity cannot work” and “there will not be a recovery in growth or jobs” . Instead the critics now argue the government is complacent for daring to say a recovery has started, complain that living standards are not yet rising after a long period beginning with Labour’s Great Recession when they have been falling, and suggest at the same time there is a housing asset bubble.
So what is happening? There is a decent recovery led by new private sector jobs. There are 1.4 million extra jobs in the private sector since 2010. Unemployment has fallen, though by much less than the number of new jobs owing to continued net inward migration, which has itself come down. Output is now expanding, probably at the fastest rate of the major economies. The government has been careful in how it has described this, and is far from complacent about the state of the UK economy. They stress the need to do more to raise living standards, to curb the debt and spread the growth more widely.
The best news for living standards recently has been the rise of the pound against the dollar and some other leading currencies. As we import so much, a stronger pound cuts import costs and helps control inflation. The recent rises still leaves the pound much more competitive for our exports than prior to the Great Recession and credit crunch. The move to a negotiated settlement in Syria rather than a military escalation has also helped by lowering the oil price. More needs to be done to make energy cheaper, to control public sector costs and charges, to lower tax on working families and to stimulate more competition and cheaper prices in other areas.
The government’s freezing of Council Tax, raising of Tax Threasholds for Income Tax, removing Labour’s planned Fuel Duty increases and creating a climate for more jobs are all helping with living standards. Higher VAT and the continuation of the Miliband/EU dear energy policies have been less helpful.
It is difficult to accept the claim that we already have a housing bubble in the UK. The housing market in many parts of the country still shows prices well below the 2007 peak. Transaction volume has been much lower than during the 2005-7 bubble.
It is true the Uk has a new good export business, building very expensive luxury flats in a few parts of central London and selling them to foreigners. This does not signify that the rest of the country or the UK mortgage financed market is in the same state of rapid turnover and rising prices – far from it in most cases. Higher house prices from modest rises elsewhere will stimulate more turnover and activity, make it more worthwhile for developers and builders to build some new homes, and create more jobs and better incomes for a wide variety of people in housing related activity. The market generally is far from overheated and does not yet need a dose of cold water all over it.