ONS data shows UK wealth wedded to property
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Data reveals UK net worth of £8.8tn is four times that of 1995 after massive rise in property wealth, but stellar rise masks public deficit and decline in savings
Britain’s obsession with property has sent the country’s net worth soaring to an estimated £8.8tn, an increase of 6% (£493bn) compared with the end of 2014.
A surge in house prices in 2015 offset the UK’s decline in savings, the slow recovery of the banking sector and the government’s growing debt mountain.
Overall, house prices increased by 7% in 2015 to add a further £355bn to the already huge value locked up in Britain’s homes. The Office for National Statistics said in its annual assessment of Britain’s assets and liabilities that the value of dwellings was estimated at £5.5tn at the end of 2015, more than four times their estimated value in 1995, when the figure touched £1.2tn.
A more recent survey of house prices for June puts the growth rate at 8.7%.
Such is the stellar rise in property prices that the figure for the UK’s total net worth more than tripled between 1995 and 2015, an increase of £6tn, equivalent to an average increase of £87,000 per person, said the ONS. Factories and office blocks add a further £2tn to the value of UK property.
The boost to property contrasts with the state of the country’s more liquid financial assets, such as shareholdings, employee stock options, savings and pensions. The financial holdings of British households and companies are vast, but overshadowed by the borrowing and the liabilities attached to the assets. So while private pension funds have accumulated billions of pounds in assets, these are weighed down by the demands on them from current and future pensioners, more than cancelling them out.
The state balance sheet makes up another slice of the UK’s assets and in 1995, central government could boast that its assets and liabilities were in balance, but the growing cost of pensioner benefits and the financial crash have thrown red ink all this benign picture and created a £1.5tn deficit.
Part of the financial cost of the 2008 banking collapse was the money ministers spent bailing out financial institutions, which were burdened by bad property loans, and the property industry itself. Bankruptcies were avoided and many jobs saved, but at a huge cost to the taxpayer.
In contrast to the US, where many banks and property developers were allowed to go bust, in effect writing off the bad loans, UK banks and property companies were bailed out. The effect was that a short sharp fall in property values in 2008 was transformed into a boom that has lasted from 2012 to the present.
The ONS figures show that the growth of UK’s property and fixed asset values outstripped that of all other G7 countries while Britain’s total financial assets – collecting together the financial assets of households, the government and companies – put in the worst performance in the G7.
Japan had the highest financial net worth in the G7 at £1.9tn while the UK and Italy had the lowest, both at minus £0.3tn.