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.

Photo: Getty
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How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.