Liquid: Liam Fox wants more to be done to ensure access to clean water
The best financial decision Liam Fox ever made was to climb the housing ladder in his late twenties.
The GP and Conservative MP for North Somerset – who was Defense Secretary under David Cameron and International Trade Secretary under Theresa May – told Donna Ferguson he believes more affordable homes need to be built to help first-time buyers access the property ladder.
His latest crusade is to enshrine in law the services English authorities must provide to people with Down syndrome in terms of health care, education and housing.
What did your parents teach you about money?
To live within your means. When I was little, my parents didn’t have a lot of money. My father was a modern language teacher while my mother was not working, so there was only one salary. They were cautious – but we were quite comfortable. I never lacked for anything, but I remember in the late 1970s the price of oil rose dramatically and my parents had to turn off the heating as a result. It was the first time I realized that my parents didn’t automatically have all the money they needed.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
The only time I did was after buying my first property in 1988, a two-bedroom apartment near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. The interest rate on my mortgage was 11.5% – a year later it was 14.8%. I was a young doctor in my twenties who lived alone and almost all of my salary went towards my mortgage. It was the first time in my adult life that I worried about having enough money.
People are only just beginning to realize how inflation can affect you financially. I think there are financial difficulties ahead for a lot of people.
I was lucky because I could pay my bills and I knew my salary would continue to rise, as would the value of my house. But I remember seeing my money eaten away by rising mortgage costs.
What was the best financial year of your life?
It would have been one of the years I was in Cabinet – so 2010, 2011, then 2016 to 2019. There’s such a pay rise from being an MP – currently around £82,000 – to what you get at Cabinet, approximately £130,000. I have never tried to earn a lot of money outside Parliament: a little, but not a lot. So that big pay jump was pretty noticeable.
Did you feel reasonably paid as a minister?
In terms of responsibility, and when you compare it to what people earn elsewhere, the salary is not huge. There are something like 7,000 administrators in the NHS who earn more than the Prime Minister.
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for fun?
It was a Ralph Lauren wool coat. I tend not to buy expensive items, but I was in New York and it was cold. It cost me a few hundred dollars. When I came back to the UK the coat made me feel like a 1920s gangster. So I didn’t wear it here, it’s in a cupboard.
What’s the best financial decision you’ve made?
To climb the housing ladder at 27. I bought this two bedroom apartment in Beaconsfield for £68,000, sold it two years later for £89,000 and moved into a semi-detached house. I feel sorry for young people today. It’s so hard for them to get on the housing ladder. We need to build more affordable homes.
Do you save in a pension?
Yes, one of the values my parents instilled in me is to save money.
I decided the best way to do this was through property and a pension – I figured they would provide financial security later on. So I signed up for a pension the day I started working for the NHS in 1983.
And I continued to save in a pension during my 30 years as an MP. Apart from a pension, I have never had any money to invest. I prefer to spend it on improving my house or on vacations.
Do you own a property?
Yes. My wife and I own a five bedroom house in rural Somerset. We bought it in 2006. I can’t remember what we paid, but I imagine it has gone up in value since we bought it.
I also own a two bed flat near Tower Bridge in London which I once lived in but now rent out.
What is the little luxury you offer yourself?
It’s a choice between whiskey, Panamanian rum or Dominican rum. I will buy a bottle once a quarter for up to £70.
If you were chancellor, what is the first thing you would do?
I would ask officials to look at transaction taxes such as capital gains tax and stamp duty – and see if it makes sense to keep them at the same level throughout an economic cycle . In other words, when the economy is overheating, you increase them, and when the economy needs a boost, you reduce them.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes, the two that stand out are the Alzheimer Society, because my father has early Alzheimer’s, and WaterAid. I am writing a book on water scarcity and intend to donate a share of the profits to WaterAid. I think if you are entitled to anything in this world, it should be drinking water.
The fact that thousands of children around the world die every year from waterborne diseases and diarrheal diseases is a scandal.
Are you in favor of an increase in foreign aid?
It’s not how much you give, but how it’s spent. We don’t put strings on our aid, but I think if you asked taxpayers, most would insist that it be used to give people access to clean water.
What is your number one financial priority?
Have financial security. My wife, a lung cancer doctor who works for a major charity, and I never wanted to be rich, just to be comfortable.
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