How the poor have been hit hardest by inflation

New data shows that the cost of essentials such as food and energy has increased most rapidly over the last five years.

It’s hardly news that the incomes of poorer families have been squeezed until the pips squeak. Declining real wages, underemployment and cuts to social security have all combined to drive down the living standards of those at the bottom of the income distribution in recent years. But low-incomes families have had to contend with another downward pressure that until yesterday we may have intuited, but hadn’t yet seen fully evidenced.

Now we know for sure that poorer families have experienced higher levels of inflation than the better off and, indeed, the average, since the recession began. Analysis published yesterday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies ably demonstrates this by taking the price rises of various goods in recent years and then putting these together with information about which items are more or less readily consumed by different income groups.

Unsurprisingly, it shows that the cost of essentials such as food and energy have increased rapidly over the last five years (at about 30 per cent and just under 60 per cent respectively). The same is true for others key goods such as transport and education, while the costs of some items such as mortgage interest payments have drifted steadily downwards over the same period.

Since a lower income family’s consumption basket is full of the basics, these trends have hit the poorest hard. In fact, the IFS estimates that those on lower incomes have experienced average price rises that are 7.1 per cent higher than those of the top income quintile since 2007/8. As a result, poorer families’ living standards have been depressed more than accounts that use an average inflation figure might suggest. Likewise, the squeeze on those in higher income brackets is overstated by the standard methodology.

In fact, this exercise still doesn’t give us a full picture of how low-income families are being pinched hard by prices. As the IFS makes clear, its analysis does not capture the way that the same good can cost more or less for different types of consumers – the "poverty premium" effect well documented in a report last year from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Poorer families are doubly disadvantaged then: the items they consume in quantity have gone up in price quicker than other goods in recent years, and they often have to pay more than their better off peers for these basics too.

But what are the political implications of all this? For a start, this new analysis undermines the claim that poorer groups have had an easier ride than others during the recession because benefits – a largish part of their incomes – lost less of their real value than earnings. And looking forward, it shows the government is significantly underplaying the impact on poorer households of its 2012 decision to uprate most key benefits at a sub-inflation 1 per cent for three years.

All in all, if you are poor, the cost of living conversation just acquired a new and sharper edge.  

A boy walks through the Heygate Estate in the Walworth area on April 24, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Lindsay Judge is senior policy and research officer for the Child Poverty Action Group.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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