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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.