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 Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.