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Social Justice

These charts show the extent of the cost of living crisis as inflation hits 40-year high

New statistics from the ONS reveal how families are being impacted by soaring costs, as anti-poverty charities renew calls for government action.

Families are “making impossible choices between paying rocketing food bills or rent” as the cost of living continues to soar and inflation hits a 40-year high.

Inflation, the rate at which prices are rising, increased by 9.1 per cent in the year up to May. It is up from nine per cent in April. 

Released on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the figures show that the sky-rocketing cost of living is having a real impact. 

It will be the most vulnerable families already struggling who will face the greatest costs, while many more will experience poverty in the coming months, charities have warned.

A total of 94 per cent of adults reported that the price of their food shop has increased over the last month, according to the data. With prices of staple food items soaring, households are feeling the pinch.

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The average price of pasta increased by more than 50 per cent between April 2021 and 2022. It now costs an average of 53p for a 500g bag of pasta, where it would have cost 36p for the same bag last year.

Crisps have seen the second highest rise in price of 16.8 per cent, and the cost of bread is 16.4 per cent higher than it was last year.

In cash terms, beef mince has seen the highest rise in price. An average 500g pack cost £2.34 in April this year, a 32p increase on the previous year. 

Rebecca McDonald, chief economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent organisation working to tackle poverty, said: “Inflation continues to hit highs not seen since the early 1980s, heaping more pressure on millions of families who were already struggling. 

“While the very high annual rate is still heavily fuelled by energy costs, it will be worrying for families already trying to manage on low incomes that the biggest contributor to the increase on last month’s rate was food prices.”

Utility bills are becoming more expensive too, with 85 per cent of adults reporting a rise in their gas and electricity bills. 

It’s costing people more to get around as well. Some 77 per cent have seen a rise in their fuel bills, while 16 per cent said it’s costing them more to travel on public transport.

In May, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £15 million support package to help people with the cost of living crisis. Each household will get £400 off their energy bills in October this year. 

On top of this, millions of people on benefits – such as universal credit and child tax credit – will receive a £650 cost of living payment. These will be paid in two instalments this year, first in July and second in the autumn.

Speaking about the government’s plans, McDonald added: “The support package announced last month shows the chancellor is finally grasping the scale of the crisis. The continuing rise in food prices means the decision in April not to uprate benefits in line with inflation has left low-income households, who spend more of their budget on these items, facing a difficult three months until they receive their July payment.

“Instead of lurching from crisis response to crisis response, the government needs to get on the front foot and address the fundamental inadequacy of our social security system. As a first step to ensuring that benefits actually support people in hard times, the government must immediately stop deducting debt repayments from benefits at unaffordable rates.”

Alison Garnham, CEO of the Child Poverty Action Group, agreed more needs to be done to protect families. She said: “The chancellor’s cost of living support package was a good start but with almost 4 million children in poverty, it’s clear that long-term structural changes to our social security system are needed – alongside a restoration of the value of benefits –  before we can say families have enough to live on.

“Priorities for change must be removal of the benefit cap and the two child limit both of which trap families in poverty with disastrous consequences for the children concerned.”

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Commenting on the inflation figures, ONS Chief Economist Grant Fitzner said:  “Though still at historically high levels, the annual inflation rate was little changed in May.  

“Continued steep food price rises and record high petrol prices were offset by clothing costs rising by less than this time last year and a drop in often fluctuating computer games prices.  

“The price of goods leaving factories rose at their fastest rate in 45 years, driven by widespread food price rises, while the cost of raw materials leapt at their fastest rate on record.” 

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But charities stress that the impact of the cost of living crisis is going to mean that vulnerable people go hungry. A total of 7.3 million adults and 2.6 million children experienced food poverty in April 2022, according to the Food Foundation. 

Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry MBE said:  “For the government’s levelling up strategy to be successful, in addition to easing the financial burden on families, it must invest in support for children with a family hub in every community, and mental health teams in every school to give young people the best possible start in life, regardless of where they live.” 

Sumi Rabindrakumar, head of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “Food banks across our network are telling us about accelerating levels of need in recent months as more people are being pushed deeper into poverty and struggling to make ends meet. We know that most people at food banks in our network can’t work or work longer hours due to caring responsibilities, mental health problems or disability. That’s why we’re urgently calling on the UK government to introduce a long-term commitment in the social security system to ensure everyone can afford the essentials we all need to survive, like food.”

Michael Clarke, of  charity Turn2us, added: “The sharp increase in inflation, on everything from food to fuel, means too many people are being faced with trying to make not enough money stretch too far. 

“Every day, our Helpline advisers hear from parents who are skipping meals to try and keep their children fed or making impossible choices between paying rocketing food bills or rent. In the sixth wealthiest economy in the world, this simply isn’t right. It is imperative that benefits are uprated in line with inflation so people on the lowest income are supported, rather than left to fall through the gaps and plunged further into financial insecurity.”

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