iPads in, colour film out: the 2012 inflation basket

And the lowly pineapple finally makes it into basket of goods used to calculate inflation.

The Office of National Statistics has released its annual review of the inflation calculation, showing what has been added and removed to the basket of goods used to calculate inflation. This year, out goes the cost of developing and printing colour film, as digital cameras steadily erode that business, and in comes Apple iPads (or rather, "tablet computers"), to reflect the growing size and importance of the market -- tablet computers are predicted to outsell PCs by 2013.

The changes reflect a number of priorities. As well as those related to the death of old technologies and the birth of new ones, others are designed to make the job of actually collating the information easier. So "branded chocolate sweets" replace "candy coated chocolate" due to difficulty of collection, while "outdoor adventure boot" is swapped out for "walking/hiking boot".

Some of the changes reflect different ways of buying the same things. We no longer purchase "cable TV subscriptions" in enough numbers, apparently, instead opting for "bundled communication services"; and "annual leisure centre membership" is taken out. since it is already reflected in, for example, "leisure centre exercise classes".

There is a tough line to walk with some introductions. Adding technology early is always important, since the fall in prices represents a real increase in relative living standards; and yet, pre-empting market adoption runs the risk of artificially dampening the final figures. For instance, blu-ray players were added to the basket in 2010, when they looked like the future of home entertainment; with the growing popularity of streaming services, they now look like an evolutionary dead-end, and yet their continually dropping prices will have lowered inflation, albeit by a miniscule amount.

The ONS always has a tricky job to do in balancing these competing demands, and it is further hampered by the fact that spending habits differ greatly between the most and least well-off in society. Trying to come up with a single figure to represent the whole nation may be an impossible task, but they will carry on trying to do so for as long as we ask it of them.

Included:

Bag of sweets (not chocolate), replacing bag of boiled/jellied sweets, to allow representation of foam sweets which have taken an increasing share of the market.

Tablet computers, introduced to represent a significant and growing market. Also improves coverage in an under-represented area of the basket.

Chicken and chips, takeaway, introduced to improve coverage of catering which has been identified as an under-represented area of the basket.

Pineapple. Fruit prices vary greatly, so it is beneficial to collect across as broad a range as possible.

Removed:

Develop & print 135/24 colour film, this item has a low and decreasing weight due to the increasing popularity of digital cameras.

Step ladder, a relatively low weighted item in an over covered area of the basket.

Subscription to cable TV, replaced by bundled communication services reflecting a change in the way in which this service is purchased.

 

Get the full data (pdf).

 

The lowly pineapple, finally in the inflation basket. Flickr/ECohen, CC-BY-SA

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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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.