Headlines: February 9th, 2004

New research shows buying a home is now beyond the means of average key public sector workers such as nurses, teachers and police officers in most areas of Britain. The study comes from the Halifax and says housing affordability problems for public sector staff are no longer confined to London and the South East of England as they have been in previous years.The research reveals that the average house price in 504 of the 634 postal towns it has analysed is now more than a hundred thousand pounds. That, it says, has had a serious impact on key workers. Of the towns looked at in the research, 496 are now unaffordable for nurses and 390 teachers.The research used the house price to earnings ratio for each key public sector occupation against the UK average first time buyer annual house price to earnings ratio in 2002 and 2003. Where the key public sector worker house ratio is greater than the ratio for all occupations the town is classified as an unaffordable region. The Halifax says first time buyer affordability is the chosen threshold as the issue is about helping key public sector workers get onto the housing ladder.The prices to earnings ratio for key public sector workers is calculated by dividing the standardised average house price by annual average earnings for the relevant occupations. The earnings figures are taken from the Office of National Statistics New Earnings Survey, which gives average salaries. Importantly, the researchers say, the numbers used in the report are not entry-level salaries. For example the figure used for teachers is just over 30,000 pounds.

Key findings show that in London the average price of a property now stands at 8.8 times a nurse’s average annual pay. Four regions – Wales, the North, the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber – have seen the highest increases in house price to earnings ratios, but remain the most affordable for key public sector workers. In 2003, the average house price to earnings ratio for key public sector workers was above the average for a first time buyer in six regions from the Midlands southwards. Scotland is the most affordable area for all four key public sector occupations and nationally, the situation is worst for nurses and fire fighters with the average house price now being almost six times the average salary for both occupations.Shane O’Riordain, General Manager, Group Economics at Halifax said in regions where affordability is an issue the recruitment and retention of key public sector workers would become an increasing problem. It was sensible for the government to continue with the London weighting in its scheme to assist key workers but consideration needed to be given to extending the scope of the scheme beyond the south of England.