Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets

Tony Dolphin of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) explains the effect the new inflation statistics will have on the UK economy.

Inflation 2010-2011, percentage change over 12 months; source: ONS

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports today that consumer price inflation in the UK was 5.2% in September, up from 4.5% in August. Increases in gas and electricity prices were largely to blame but – although these were well known about – the jump in inflation was bigger than anticipated.


The September inflation number matters more than most because it is used to uprate social security benefits from April next year, and also the state pension when inflation is above 2.5% and the rate of increase in average earnings (which it is).

Back in March, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) thought that inflation would be 4.3% in September, so the outturn was 0.9 percentage points above their forecast. As a result, government spending on pensions and other benefits will be £1.2 billion higher in 2012/13 than the OBR thought.

Recent developments make it likely that unemployment will also be higher than forecast by the OBR and this too will add to the projected social security bill.

Their projections were based on the claimant count measure of unemployment averaging 1.51 million in 2012/13. The latest figure, for September, was 1.60 million and most forecasters expect it to increase further in the next few months. It would take an extraordinary turnaround in the economy to generate the growth needed to get unemployment down to the level forecast by the OBR.

It is not all bad news for the government. Higher price inflation will also boost some tax receipts. VAT revenues, for example, will be higher than previously forecast.

But higher price inflation – when it is not matched by higher wage inflation – also has a more general effect. It squeezes households’ disposable incomes and reduces their ability to spend. Higher inflation has been one of the main reasons why retail sales have been flat over the last year.

This in turn helps explain why the economy has not grown in the last nine months and why forecasters now think the economy will expand by less than 1% in 2011 (compared to the 1.7% the OBR was forecasting in March). This downgrade to growth will also necessitate an upward revision to forecast budget deficits.

The chancellor’s self-imposed deficit targets have just become that little bit harder to achieve.

See also:

Economic update – October 2011Tony Dolphin, October 7th 2011

One-Club Osborne drives economy further into the roughWilliam Bain MP, October 6th 2011

Osborne: Speaking truth to wealth and power? Really?Ann Pettifor. October 5th 2011

UK growth down as IMF warn deficit reduction should not be at the expense of growthShamik Das, October 5th 2011

Gideon’s grotesque attempt to blame workers’ rights for unemploymentRichard Exell, October 3rd 2011

11 Responses to “Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets”

  1. OMAR CHABBI

    Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets: http://t.co/A7YBGZVT writes @IPPR’s Tony Dolphin #inflation

  2. Alex Braithwaite

    RT @leftfootfwd: Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets http://t.co/MBqYHKyq

  3. Political Planet

    Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets: Tony Dolphin of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IP… http://t.co/v9Fy1BzQ

  4. Michael

    Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/u4lYl9AI

  5. ray turner

    Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets l Left Foot Forward – http://t.co/u4lYl9AI

  6. Redstar PCS Stoke

    Inflation report is bad news for Osborne’s targets: http://t.co/A7YBGZVT writes @IPPR’s Tony Dolphin #inflation

  7. Ash

    “Higher price inflation will also boost some tax receipts. VAT revenues, for example, will be higher than previously forecast.

    But higher price inflation… squeezes households’ disposable incomes and reduces their ability to spend.”

    I don’t see how you can square this circle. Surely if people spend no more than they were predicted to spend, VAT receipts will be no higher than they were predicted to be – regardless of whether people are getting less for their money because prices have risen.

    If anything, won’t VAT receipts fall because people are having to spend a higher proportion of their limited budgets on things that attract little or no VAT – food and domestic energy, for instance?

    For instance: say I have £500 a month to spend on zero-rated food, 5%-rated domestic energy, and 20%-rated little luxuries, and inflation drives up the amount I spend on food from £300 to £315, and on energy from £100 to £105. So the amount I can spend on little luxuries falls from £100 to £80. In that scenario, the amount I’m paying in VAT every month is going to fall by almost 20%.

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