Inflation up by 0.1 percentage point, real wages down by 1%

RPI sent out to the great big spreadsheet in the sky.

The ONS has announced this month's inflation statistics:

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) grew by 2.8% in the year to February 2013, up from 2.7% in January 2013. The change in the rate follows four consecutive months when it stood at 2.7%.

This is the first month without RPI as a headline statistic; following its decision to choose consistency over accuracy, RPI is no longer a designated "National Statistic". Its annual growth is still reported, however, and it has fallen from 3.3 to 3.2 per cent between January and February.

The new replacement for RPI, RPIJ (which is calculated using the same data but a different, and more accurate, formula), showed the same change, dropping 0.1 percentage point, to 2.6 per cent.

The ONS has introduced a second new measure of inflation, CPIH, which aims to include the housing costs of owner-occupiers – something historically lacking from the CPI. It's currently experimental, but with the housing costs weighted at 12 per cent of the total index, it could well show a more realistic measure of the cost of living for the average Briton.

For all of the last seven years, CPIH has actually been lower than CPI:

(The green line shows inflation in the cost of housing). That's a surprising statistic, but may come from the fact that the measure for the cost of owner occupied housing is "rental equivalence":

Rental equivalence uses the rent paid for an equivalent house as a proxy for the costs faced by an owner occupier. In other words this answers the question “how much would I have to pay in rent to live in a home like mine?” for an owner occupier.

Obviously, if you are paying rent, you are probably aware that it's not quite as simple as asserting that the value of owning a house is no more or less than paying rent on the same house. Nonetheless, valuing the monthly "cost" of living in a house you own is notoriously tricky, and this is one of the most accepted ways of doing so. It will be a measure that is worth keeping an eye on.

Of course, the most important measure to pair inflation with is wage growth. And there, the news remains unfortunate. Regular earnings grew just 1.3 per cent in the last year, meaning that real wages continue to shrink at an alarming rate. That's a trend which shows no sign of abating, and it is the biggest point in favour of the hard-money inflation hawks. We are all getting poorer, and have been for a while.

A house, probably owner occupied. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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