Thirty four point two per cent (34.2%) is how much a basket of budget-priced goods from one of the UK’s cheapest supermarkets has risen in exactly one year.
How do I know this? Because on May 15th 2022 I began monitoring the prices of 14 items. At that time the total cost of those items was £13.43. Every week I have checked out the prices of those specific items and kept a record of them. This week, 52 weeks later, I can reveal that those same 14 items would now cost you £18.02p. That is a rise of £4.59p.
The goods I chose, we’ll look in more detail at them in a moment, were chosen to represent items an average family might buy. When we launched the index we said:
“The items we have chosen are, in some respects, fairly random and may not be those you would find in your own basket. But they are also common items: bread, breakfast cereal, milk, baked beans, crisps and biscuits. We will be watching these items over the coming weeks to see how prices are rising in real time.” (Sunday Socialist, May 22nd 2022)
It would have been possible to select other items and get a slightly different result. That said, I had no idea which goods would go up, which down and which stay the same.
The item in our list which has the dubious honour of having risen the most is skimmed milk; to be precise a 2 litre bottle of Cowbelle Fresh British Skimmed Milk. In May 2022 this item cost 95p. Last week it cost £1.75p, a rise of 80p or 84%.
Closely behind milk was bread, or precisely again, Village Bakery Both In One Medium Sliced Loaf. On May 15th 2022 this would have set you back 55p. Last week you would have needed 85p, a rise of 30p or 55%. You might say, “Well, 30p across a year – that’s not much”. Back in July we pointed out: “We all care about the pound in our pocket and how much it can buy. The fact is that week in, week out, your pound is buying less and less. This means you either have to buy less, buy more cheaply or go without. Evidence suggests that the first two become implausible very quickly.”
We can all agree that milk, bread and cheese are staples of the British diet, particularly for those with least income. Our 400g Emporium British Mild Cheddar Cheese would have cost £1.89p a year ago. Now, that same slab of cheese costs £2.79p. That’s an additional 90p, or 48%, which families already struggling, and often receiving no additional income as their wages and/or benefits are frozen below inflation, have to find.
If you have school age children they need feeding. Crisps, and we chose 30 pack Snackrite Multipack Variety Crisps, are a standard addition to lunch boxes; a year ago, £2.79p, today £3.99p, a price rise of £1.20 or 43%.
Even the price of dunking a biscuit in your morning tea is rapidly moving beyond many people. A 400g pack of Belmont Digestives, which would have cost 39p, now costs 55p; a 41% increase, equivalent to 16p.
It’s been a harsh winter in which many people have been unable to afford to put on the heating. A tin of soup can be the difference between some warmth and none. A 400g can of Bramwells Cream Of Tomato Soup has gone up from 45p to 62p, an increase of 38% or 17p.
Some people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is particularly the case that children who have no breakfast find it hard to concentrate. A 500g box of Harvest Morn Corn Flakes would have cost 55p and now costs 69p, a rise of 25%. Incidentally, if you are poor, don’t even consider the branded variety. A pack of Kelloggs Corn Flakes would cost you £2.25p.
Apparently an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Even more effective are Tory cuts that mean doctors don’t do house calls any more. A 6-pack of Nature’s Pick Best of British Apples has risen from £1.19p to £1.49p. In fairness, I should point out that they fell 10p from £1.59p this week, though we would expect fruit to start falling slightly during the summer when there tends to be a glut. Unfortunately, that never worked out last summer when it rose consistently throughout the summer months.
A 500g pack of Italian Cuisine Fusilli has risen by 23%, from £1.29 to £1.59p.
The tinned variety, popular with children of course, has also risen by 23% from 13p to 16p. Again, this is only a 3p rise over a year. But it is not how much a single good rises by but the cumulative effect of a number of rises simultaneously that has the greatest effect on the incomes of those who are least able to absorb additional costs. Stupid and insensitive Tory MPs will, with alarming regularity, appear in the pages of the Daily Mail, Daily Express etc. and explain that the problem with poor people is that they do not know how to budget. Let me just crush that particular thought once and for all. If any of the recent disastrous candidates as Chancellor of the Exchequer showed even a fraction of the ingenuity of those struggling on minimal incomes, we would all be living in financial bliss. People who have always had far too much are always so quick to point the finger at those who have the least.
Another fairly staple food stuff is up 22% since last year. This particularly affects poorer households with children.
Finally we get to something which has risen by something close to the rate the Government advertises. A 500g tub of Greenvale Meadow Flower margarine has only risen by 18%. Up from £1.09p to £1.29p. But do note how sensitised we can become. An 18% increase described as ‘only’ because somehow a good only rising by 1.5 times the official rate of inflation starts to look like a bargain.
A 250g box of Mackenzies Scottish Blend Tea Bags has risen by 4% from 95p to 99p.
No, not the chocolate box but because we have in our list of 13 items one item which has not risen at all. That is Everyday Essentials Cheese & Tomato Pizza. So, provided poor people are prepared to live on pizza, they can survive without needing a pay rise of any description. I must be honest, as I was checking the prices last week, I was almost willing the pizza to remain the same, as its dogged refusal to rise in price was the only thing giving me hope.
There is actually some more good news on which to complete this special one-year-on report. Half of the items have not risen for over 12 weeks, and there is a real sense in which price rises are slowing down. Prices are still rising, though last week they fell overall by 40p. This has happened previously, and we will not be able to say that prices are stabilising unless they fall for at least 4 weeks running, and that did not happen in the past year. It is more likely that, as inflation gradually starts to fall, prices will rise more slowly. But rising more slowly should not be mistaken for falling. The economy is still perched precariously, and it will be the poorest who will continue to suffer the brunt of a recession they are in no way responsible for creating.
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Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.