| 12.1°C Dublin

Dan White: Instead of getting better, why it seems so much worse

How it all went wrong for professional class

1The Irish dream was that you worked hard, scrimped and saved and somehow cobbled together enough money for a deposit on a house. For the first six or eight years you didn't have tuppence to rub together, but then gradually as both your income and the value of your house rose, that house turned from being a financial millstone into an asset.

2 But now just about everything that you can imagine has gone wrong. House prices have collapsed over the past three years with most analysts reckoning that they are down by at least 50pc with more bad news to come. Almost five per cent of all home owners with mortgages are now in arrears and hundreds of thousands of others are stuck with mortgages worth way more than "their" homes are worth that they can never reasonably expect to repay.

3 Massive over-supply has completely destroyed the housing market. You can only build 90,000 houses a year, as we did in 2006, for so long before demand catches up with supply. There are now somewhere between 300,000 and 340.000 vacant houses and the country is littered with so-called "ghost estates". Suddenly, for many people, a house has been transformed from an asset into the financial equivalent of a black hole.

4 And that's not the only problem. Since the recession, in reality a 1930-style depression, started over two years ago a quarter of a million people have lost their jobs. Many of these people had enormous mortgages on homes that have now lost a half or more of their value. This week the Central Bank published figures showing that 36,000 mortgages, almost one in 20, were now in arrears. As these figures don't include people who have come to temporary arrangements with their banks, the real situation is much worse.

5 And even people who have kept their jobs have been hard hit. Most of the 1.8 million people who are lucky enough to still have job have seen their incomes slashed through a combination of tax increases and wage cuts as employers reduce hourly rates and cut back on things like bonuses and overtime, on which many workers had depended to fund their lifestyles during the boom years.

6 Things are still getting worse. While Brian Lenihan has assured us that we have turned the corner, this is rapidly turning into the most over-used cliche in Irish economic history? Only this week our Finance Minister was assuring us that the economy has "stabilised", whatever that's supposed to mean. Don't believe a word of it. Things are unfortunately still getting worse. Every time we "turn the corner" we seem to end up stuck in yet another dead end.

7 We're stuck in a trap. With tax revenues running behind target and the international bond markets signalling their increasing lack of patience, next December's Budget is going to be even worse than many of us had been dreading. The only prospect we have to look forward to is more tax increases and spending cuts. This in turn will depress the domestic economy even more and drive down house prices from their already low levels. Lower house prices will further weaken the economy. We are effectively stuck in a trap with no chance of escape.

8 The future for most of us is permanently lower incomes, higher taxes, renewed emigration and, for those of us still lucky enough to have a roof over our heads, being stuck with mortgages that vastly exceed the value of "our" homes.


Privacy