MPC prepared to overlook "period of above-target inflation"

Bank of England dashes hopes of the inflation hawks.

The Bank of England's monthly inflation report confirms that its Monetary Policy Committee is heeding the advice of incoming governor Mark Carney and accepting an "overshoot" of inflation.

Speaking to MPs last week, Carney had confirmed he favoured a flexible inflation target. While he isn't convinced scrapping the target entirely "is a risk worth taking", he stated that he accepts the need for a bit of lee-way on the price target while growth is still below trend.

Today's report from the MPC backs up that argument. The Bank writes:

As long as domestic cost and price pressures remained consistent with inflation returning to the target in the medium term, it was appropriate to look through the temporary, albeit protracted, period of above-target inflation.

Attempting to bring inflation back to the target sooner by removing the current policy stimulus more quickly than currently anticipated by financial markets would risk derailing the recovery and undershooting the inflation target in the medium term.

The MPC’s remit is to deliver price stability, but to do so in a way that avoids undesirable volatility in output.

The key reason for the bank's decision is that it doesn't see GDP increasing quick enough, soon enough, to clamp down on inflation in a way which may damage growth. It predicts GDP returning to positive annual increases, but only reaching 2 per cent annual growth — the barest which could be described as acceptable — in the second quarter of 2014. It also sees a high possibility, although still below 50 per cent, of a contraction in the second quarter of 2013:

As a result, the loosening of the inflation target sans that the bank now doesn't see the rate returning to its two per cent target until 2015:

The news sent the pound down against all major currencies:

But the greater tolerance of inflation only goes so far. The MPC gave no indication that it was inclined to increase quantitative easing, typically seen as a trade-off between growth and inflation in a demand-constrained economy. Whether that means the MPC thinks demand is no longer constrained, or whether its tolerance has limits, remains unclear.

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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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.