Chart of the Day: Inflation falls

CPI and RPI both drop by 0.2 points

Thanks largely to lower water, gas and electricity bills, inflation in the UK continued to fall in February, according to new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The consumer price index (CPI) - a measure used to gauge inflation rates across the European Union - dipped in the UK to 3.4 per cent last month, a decrease from 3.6 per cent in January. The Bank of England's target for inflation is 2 per cent on the CPI measure.

A large upward effect came from food and non-alcoholic beverages, clothing and footwear, furniture and household equipment.

The CPI stands at 121.8 in February 2012 (based on 2005=100).

The retail price index in the UK was 3.7 per cent in February, a decrease of 3.9 per cent. This was mainly due to downward pressures from fuel and light and motoring expenditure, while upward pressure came from alcoholic drinks.

The all-goods index is 189.9 in February, up from 186.7 the previous month. The RPI stood at 239.9 in February (based on January 1987=100).

David Page, an economist at Lloyds told the Financial Times:

We are no longer especially confident that inflation will slow back to, never mind below, the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee’s 2 per cent target over the medium term.

Sylvia Waycot of the financial information service Moneyfacts told the BBC:

It's just a bit too early for everyone to burst into a chorus of 'Don't worry, be happy', as today's figures still mean that there are only 79 accounts out of 1,126 that negate both inflation and the taxman’s cut.


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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.