UK's Brown Reveals Plans to Help Housing Market

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, seeking to reverse a slump in popularity, offered help on Wednesday for Britain's troubled housing market.

Support for Brown's ruling Labour Party is at a record low and polls suggest the opposition Conservative Party would win a big majority in parliament if an election were held now.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Simon Dawson
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"Our immediate priority -- at a time when food and fuel bills are rising and mortgages more difficult to obtain -- is to help family finances," Brown told parliament.

He announced plans to reform banking regulations, whose failings were exposed last year when Britain suffered its first run on a major bank in more than a century.

Proposals on education, crime and immigration also formed part of his agenda for 2008-2009 that will be formalised later this year.

Brown, who succeeded Tony Blair in June, is battling to win back the support of voters squeezed by rising food and energy prices and anxious about a potential house price crash.

He promised more measures in coming weeks to shore up an economy being buffeted by a global downturn, showing signs of slowing growth, rising inflation and increasing unemployment.

The Labour Party slumped to its worst share of the vote on record in May 1 local council elections amid mounting economic woes and fatigue with Labour after 11 years in power.

Conservative leader David Cameron -- buoyant after the May polls put him on track to win the next election that is due by May 2010 at the latest -- said he had heard it all before.

"It is another relaunch. His ideas have run out of steam," he said.

Help for Homebuyers

To support the troubled housing market, Brown announced 300 million pounds ($584 million) of new schemes.

And the banking reform bill will allow the Bank of England to keep secret loans it makes to banks that are in difficulties.

The government was forced to nationalise mortgage lender Northern Rock this year after it became the biggest British casualty of the global credit crisis.

Brown's announcements coincided with more economic gloom.

Data on Wednesday showed a rise in Britons claiming jobless benefits while the central bank said inflation would shoot up over the next year.

A day earlier, finance minister Alistair Darling announced an unexpected income tax cut for 22 million people to try to defuse a row over earlier tax changes that left some 5 million people worse off.

The government will be forced to borrow 2.7 billion pounds ($5.26 billion) to pay for it, swelling its big budget deficit.

The Conservatives accused the government of seeking to buy votes ahead of a crucial election for a single parliamentary seat next week that the opposition could win.