Inflation rises by half a per cent

CPI now stands at 2.7 per cent.

The ONS has released the inflation report for this month. It's up. A lot:

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) annual inflation stands at 2.7 per cent in October 2012, up from 2.2 per cent in September. The main upward pressure came from the education sector (university tuition fees) with smaller upward contributions from food & non-alcoholic beverages and transport. These were partially offset by downward pressures from the housing & household services, recreation and miscellaneous goods & services sectors.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) annual inflation stands at 3.2 per cent in October 2012, up from 2.6 per cent in September.

That's the highest since May for the CPI, and 0.4 points higher than the consensus estimate (which was for 2.3 per cent for RPI and CPI). The fact that the main upward pressure came from tuition fees means that this rise is almost entirely due to the government's own decisions – and also that it is all-but-guaranteed to fall by an equivalent amount in a years time.

The extent of the effect of rising tuition fees is clear in this chart, which breaks down the various contributions of different spending categories on inflation:

This is a crisis of a sort: It is also important to point out that this now leaves inflation again racing ahead of wage growth, by a full percentage point (wage inflation stood at 1.7 per cent in the last estimate); and the idea of a "misery index" - compounding the effects of inflation and unemployment together to see the pain the economic climate inflicts on the typical person - indicates that this rise will wipe out recent goodwill gained from the falling unemployment rate. But it is not a macroeconomic crisis; without the government's short-sighted actions in 2010, this rise would be just 0.1 per cent, easily enough to argue that low inflation is here to stay. We'll see next month what happens to the overall trend.

Andrew Goodwin, senior economic advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, comments:

This is a very nasty surprise. We had expected inflation to pick up in October because of the rise in tuition fees and food prices, but the scale of the increase was surprisingly large. 

Further out we are still confident that inflation will slow back towards the target. And because of the causes of the October increase, it could be argued that these figures aren’t quite as bad for household finances as they may first appear. They represent a significant squeeze for those affected directly by the tuition fee increase, however the vast majority of people will not have been impacted. 

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the inflation target is a symmetrical one. The Bank of England's mandate is to bring inflation to 2 per cent, and it must write a letter to the chancellor explaining why it has failed if it is more than one point away in either direction. If inflation does stay below three per cent, then it remains not much to worry about.

Updated 9:53 and 11:29 with further analysis.

 

A student walks through St John's, Cambridge. 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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.