Concern that rising inflation is having a disproportionate impact on people in poorer households in the UK has prompted government number-crunchers to provide a more detailed breakdown of the cost of living.
Larry Elliott www.theguardian.com
The Office for National Statistics said it accepted that every person had their own inflation rate and it would do more to capture the impact of price increases on different income groups.
Mike Hardie, the head of inflation statistics at the ONS, said in a blog the published annual inflation rate – currently 5.4% – was an average for all households. “But everyone has their own personal inflation rate. Some people may spend a larger proportion of their income on gas and electricity, or petrol if you commute via car daily.”
The move was welcomed by the food writer and activist Jack Monroe, who has exposed how prices for cheaper food products have soared as availability fell, contributing to rising hunger and poverty.
Monroe, who is drawing up an inflation index to track basic food prices, tweeted: “Delighted to be able to tell you that the @ONS have just announced that they are going to be changing the way they collect and report on the cost of food prices and inflation to take into consideration a wider range of income levels and household circumstances.”
Writing in last week’s Observer, Monroe said: “In 2012, 10 stock cubes from Sainsbury’s Basics range were 10p. In 2022, those same stock cubes are 39p, but only available in chicken or beef. The cheapest vegetable stock cubes are, inexplicably, £1 for 10.
“Last year the Smart Price pasta in my local Asda was 29p for 500g. Today it is unavailable, so the cheapest bag is 70p; a 141% price rise for the same product in more colourful packaging.”
Terry Pratchett’s estate has authorised Monroe to use the Vimes Boots index as the name of the new price index, which is intended to document the “insidiously creeping prices” of basic food products.
The index, Monroe said, would be called the Vimes Boots index in honour of Pratchett’s creation Sam Vimes, who in the Discworld novel Men at Arms lays out the “Sam Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness”.
The author’s daughter, the writer Rhianna Pratchett, said her father would have been proud to see his work used in this way by the anti-poverty campaigner.
The ONS previously published a more detailed breakdown of inflation but it was suspended during the Covid pandemic because so many items were unavailable. During the previous economic downturn, the financial crisis of 2008-09, when inflation also surged, the ONS said poorer households were more severely affected.
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“Given the level of interest in the cost of living and inflation we are planning to restart this series,” Hardie said.
Over the longer term, he added, the ONS was “transforming” the way it measured prices in order to understand people’s spending patterns in a more detailed and timely way. The ONS measures inflation by looking at the cost of 700 items from a number of price points.
“We are currently developing radical new plans to increase the number of price points dramatically each month from 180,000 to hundreds of millions, using prices sent to us directly from supermarket checkouts,” Hardie said.
“This will mean we won’t just include one apple in a shop … but how much every apple costs, and how many of each type were purchased, in many more shops in every area of the country.”