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The UK's inflation rate climbs to 3.5 per cent

Higher food prices and clothing costs drive unexpected rise on the consumer price index.

The UK’s rating on the all-items consumer price index (CPI), which measures changes in the prices of consumer goods and services, reached 122.2 in March 2012, an increase of 3.4 per cent compared to 121.8 the previous month.

The annual rate for CPI excluding indirect taxes, CPIY, was 3.5 per cent.

The CPI all-goods index was 118.7, up from 118.2 in February, while the CPI all-services index was 126.5, also up from February’s 126.2.

The largest upward effects came from food and non-alcoholic beverages, where overall prices fell by 0.5 per cent; and clothing and footwear, where prices rose by 2.2 per cent. In recreation and culture, prices fell by 0.1 per cent.

The largest downward effects came from housing, household services and transport.

The all-items retail price index (RPI), which measures the change in the cost of a basket of retail goods and services, reached 240.8 (based on January 1987 as 100) in March, a decrease of 3.7 per cent compared to 239.9 a month earlier.

The largest downward pressures to this change came from motoring expenditure and fuel and light, while upward pressures came from food and clothing.

Average house prices in the UK increased by 0.3 per cent over the year to February 2012. The average UK mix-adjusted house price in February 2012 was £224,473.

In the 12 months to February 2012, average house prices increased in both England and Scotland by 0.4 per cent and 1.1 per cent respectively, while house prices declined by 0.5 per cent and 9.7 per cent in Wales and Northern Ireland.

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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.