Opinion

Martin Lewis predicted the mortgage timebomb, so why did the government not listen?

Last December Martin Lewis attended a summit with the chancellor in which he suggested useful ways to mitigate the coming financial storm. And what happened next? Precisely nothing

martin lewis/ debt

Martin Lewis on Good Morning Britain talking about the cost of living crisis. Photo: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

When does Martin Lewis take an official position in directing the fortunes of Britain? It can’t come too soon. Clearly, he already exerts a positive influence over millions of us with his MoneySavingExpert platform. He’s the living embodiment of George Berkeley’s tree falling in the woods – if the saving isn’t presented on MoneySavingExpert is it really a saving at all? 

While potent, Lewis is still an independent. When it comes to the big decisions that direct our lives, he’s a mitigator rather than an instigator. He’s a lone voice and not a regulator. That needs to change. The peril many face as mortgages get set to leap hugely has prompted the chancellor Jeremy Hunt to call in bank bosses for a meeting to ask them to be “flexible” with customers. Which is all very well, if a touch late.  

It turns out that experts were also called in last December, and asked to think about what could be done to help people through the cost of living crisis, with a focus on mortgages. Martin Lewis was there. During that summit he warned about the coming mortgage timebomb. This week he revealed some of his suggestions. There were useful ideas, like mortgage holidays, like potential change to loan periods, that would be reversible should the conditions improve, and a request that helping measures shouldn’t damage people’s credit scores. None of them called for government intervention that we’re told would increase inflation. But all would have a useful impact for people fearing the worst. 

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He said there were a lot of nods, but nothing happened. And now, here we are. Obviously, it was a time of flux last autumn and there was an ever revolving number of people in the great offices of state, some really bad at their jobs. Really awful. But Hunt was chancellor during the mortgage summit and you’d think he’d remember he was there. Or at least have kept SOME notes, so that even now, as the horse bolts, he’d be able to start doing something positive.

Lewis is back meeting with the chancellor this week, but it’s not yet clear if his advice will be heeded this time. 

Martin Lewis is not the only clear voice in British public discourse who can read the room and lay out useful ways to help people navigate through the reeds. There are people like  Miatta Fahnbulleh, boss of the New Economics Foundation, and journalists like Ed Conway and Andy Verity, who don’t simply rehash a prevailing soundbite but go deep to the cause and come up with plausible response. And that’s not to mention experienced social business leads in Big Issue Invest, with years of experience, who can bring proper grassroots impact. 

It’s these voices the chancellor should listen to more. Because the problem with the system we have is that too little happens too late to have a positive impact on the lives of millions, let alone getting out in front of problems and preventing the crisis before it happens. The system is tied to electoral success – as soon as it started to look like mortgage increases would damage potential votes, Number 11 started to get serious. 

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Which is frustrating for the millions of people who rent and who have seen bills rise inexorably. They’re at their highest rate ever. Rents went up, on average across the UK, by around 4.8% in the last year. They are expected to keep rising. Around 28% of renters’ pre-tax income is going on their rent. There was no intervention for renters. But then, there has been no great policy plan across the housing spectrum.  

The big, unwieldy beast of national government isn’t functioning as it should. Every challenge to them is met with the standard boilerplate response of how funds were allocated.  

The public aren’t buying that any more. Their reality is tough. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

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