Squeezed middle needs a lifeline

First published in Hampshire Business

Stagnating wages, high house prices, rising taxes, shrinking benefits and the soaring cost of elderly care all adds up to a squeeze on finances for much of the UK, according to business leaders at the latest Wilkins Kennedy Round Table.

Among a host of pressures on every front for the huge slice of society dubbed the ‘squeezed middle’, the high cost of housing was rated the most urgent by delegates.

First time buyers are particularly hard hit, facing a perfect storm of low availability, high prices and restricted bank lending. One delegate quoted a successful mortgage provider who had secured lending for just two first time buyers in the last 12 months – one to a successful couple in their 30s and the other to an individual who had inherited a significant lump sum.

Property experts round the table put this down to a shortage of housing stock, a result, in part, of stringent planning measures restricting the number of new houses being built. One speaker cited a four-year planning process to build 15 new affordable homes as typical of the problems facing developers.

The disparity between tax breaks, which are dependent on the individual’s earnings, and benefits, which are calculated by household income, was also thought to be a major contributing factor to the squeeze. The “divorce of the two systems” created huge inequalities that shut some low earners out of the systems, while rewarding other better off households.

The country’s role in Europe also came under scrutiny as some delegates suggested leaving the EU in order to open up trade with the rest of the Commonwealth and shed restrictive human rights legislation.

Younger generations’ fondness for lavish spending proved another hot topic, with the saving habit said to be no longer in vogue. Short-term saving for holidays and nights out was described as the extent of many people’s budgeting and that putting something aside for a mortgage deposit was too far out of reach for most to even consider.

Tax breaks for married couples, more help for first time buyers, easing planning laws and opting out of the EU were all suggested as ways to loosen the belt around the squeezed middle of an aching nation.

List of attendees

  • Peter Humphrey, Humphrey Farms
  • John Natt, Wilkins Kennedy
  • Paul Hopper, Wilkins Kennedy
  • Lisa Emery, Office Angels
  • Ian Palacio, Port of Southampton
  • Jennie Cartwright, Lloyds TSB Commercial
  • Graham Clarke, Clarke Mews Estate Agent
  • Ann Boyes, Allied Irish Bank
  • Peter Day, Impatex
  • Gareth Lewis, Polymedia

For details of the next Round Table or to attend, contact Claire Peers on claire.peers@wilkinskennedy.com

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