When it comes to unsecured debt, the British are the champions of Europe. According to Datamonitor, individuals in the UK have an average of £3,175 ($6,223) unsecured debt, more than double that in the rest of western Europe and now accounts for a third of all personal debt on the continent. Despite these staggering levels of debt, UK banks seem unconcerned about rising levels of personal indebtedness. In recent years, personal bankruptcy in the UK has rocketed (see chart above). Last year, over a 100,000 people entered into Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) – the British equivalent of personal bankruptcy, forcing lenders to write of £1.4bn of bad debts.
Meanwhile, the total stock of UK mortgages now stands at over £1 trillion; a figure that has risen by over 24 percent compared to last year. Taking mortgage and unsecured debt together, this means that every man, woman and child in the UK owes an average of £21,000 ($41,660). This rising stock mortgage debt has not been accompanied by a similarly rapid rise in personal income. Moneyfacts, the financial information company, said that on average mortgage payments account for 24 percent of people's pre-tax salary today. In 1996, just 16.5 percent of households' salaries went on mortgage repayments. The situation for first-time property buyers, is even more desperate. Mortgage debt accounts for nearly 27 percent of first-time buyers' salary compared to 18 percent in 1996.
Incomes have not kept pace with housing prices. Between 1996 and 2006 the average income for first-time buyers has nearly doubled from £17,308 ($33,924) to £34,216 ($67,063) while average house prices have soared from £64,692 ($126,796) to £211,453 ($414,448). During the same period, the ratio of house prices to incomes have risen from 3.7 to above 6. Yet despite increasing signs of a massive and bloated bubble, house price inflation shows no signs of relenting. Last year, house prices increased by a staggering 9 percent.
Given that UK residents pay around 40 percent in personal taxes, most people are paying almost a half of their personal incomes on mortgage costs. In such circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that people have resorted to personal unsecured debt to finance consumption expenditure. Nor is it surprising that an increasing number of debt soaked homeowners have resorted to personal bankruptcy.