Bank of England deputy governor says low interest rates not driving inequality

PA

A Bank of England deputy governor has defended ultra-low interest rates and the bank's money printing scheme - rebutting the Prime Minister's claims that monetary policy is driving up inequality across the UK.

Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent said that real interest rates and tools like quantitative easing (QE) - which sees the Bank print money to buy government bonds - has had little bearing on wealth and income distribution.

Income disparities have been "broadly unchanged" since real interest rates started to decline around 25 years ago, Mr Broadbent said in a speech at the Society of Business Economists Annual Conference.

He added that while low interest rates can narrow wealth distribution by effectively raising the price of risky assets like stocks and shares, the gap between the rich and poor has hardly changed overall.

The Bank would be able to do more to prevent any rise in unemployment if it was not for the inflationary pressure brought about by the collapse in the pound, he said.

"Structural interest rates don't do much to the distribution of income, most of which reflects the spread of wages. They can affect the distribution of wealth, but only via prices of risky assets.

"That's what happened in the housing market, prior to the crisis, and the jump in prices had significant inter-generational effects.

"But during the period since - which included QE - real asset prices have been flat, as have the distributions of wealth and income."

It follows comments by Prime Minister Theresa May who railed against the Bank's monetary policy at a the Conservative party conference in October, saying it has disproportionately hurt savers while benefiting the asset-rich.

However, in response to Mr Broadbent's speech on Friday, Downing Street said it was "very clear that monetary policy is a matter for the Bank of England".

Earlier this week, Bank Governor Mark Carney took aim at American and British politicians including President-elect Donald Trump for attacking central bank policies, branding it a "massive deflection exercise".

He told the Treasury Select Committee that low interest rates and global inequality "are caused by much more fundamental factors and an excessive focus on monetary policy in many respects is a massive deflection exercise".

"Exceptional" monetary policy tools like QE, were "a symptom of the situation".

Mr Carney said: "The causes are much more fundamental, the solutions are much more fundamental. Curing the patient requires the operation and monetary policy is keeping the patient alive."

But former Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has called for the Bank's independence to be reined in amid growing "popular discontent".

Writing in an academic paper for Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday, Mr Balls went on to call for the establishment of a "systemic risk body" to oversee the entire system, chaired by the Chancellor and setting a mandate for the Bank.