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Now: UK wins a small 2% inflation victory this week

This week, the UK’s Office for National Statistics is expected to deliver a milestone announcement. For the first time since July 2021, inflation is anticipated to fall close to the government’s 2% target. This significant development comes almost three years after the onset of dramatic price hikes, offering a moment to reflect on the economic transformations that have occurred during this turbulent period.

A Long-Awaited Milestone

The anticipated drop in inflation marks the end of a prolonged cost of living crisis that saw rates peak at 11.1% in October 2022, a 40-year high. This potential achievement is not only a relief for consumers and businesses but also a testament to the efforts by policymakers to stabilize the economy amidst unprecedented challenges.

The Journey Through Inflation

Europe’s inflationary spike was primarily driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the geopolitical fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As economies emerged from lockdowns in 2021, demand for goods surged while supply chains were disrupted, creating an imbalance that drove prices up. The situation was exacerbated by the need to reduce reliance on Russian gas, which further spiked fuel costs.


  • Pandemic Impact: Lockdowns led to supply chain disruptions, while stimulus measures increased demand, contributing to price hikes.
  • Geopolitical Tensions: The invasion of Ukraine forced many countries to seek alternative energy sources, increasing fuel prices.
  • UK’s Unique Struggles: According to the Resolution Foundation, the UK experienced the largest consumer price increase among G7 nations, surpassed only by Iceland among OECD advanced economies.

Economic Disparities and Household Responses

The inflation crisis hit lower-income households the hardest due to their higher expenditure on essentials like energy and food. However, these households also saw wages rise in line with inflation due to minimum wage laws and competitive job markets in low-paying sectors. In contrast, higher earners experienced a real wage cut as nominal salary increases lagged behind price rises.

  • Impact on Low-Income Households: Greater portion of budget spent on essentials exacerbated financial strain.
  • Wage Adjustments: Lower-paid workers saw wages increase more consistently with inflation compared to higher earners.

The UK’s response to the inflation surge included a significant reduction in spending and an increase in savings. Households saved £54 billion more in 2023 than if savings rates had returned to pre-pandemic levels, contrasting with the US, where real consumption per head is 8% above its pre-pandemic level.

  • Spending Cuts: UK households cut back on spending sharply, saving significantly more than their US counterparts.
  • Economic Implications: This cautious financial behavior has broader implications for economic recovery and growth.

Government Debt and Economic Growth

Inflation can sometimes help reduce state debt levels by increasing tax revenues and eroding the real value of debt. However, in the UK, this benefit was offset by disappointing economic growth and substantial state expenditures to support households during the crisis. Additionally, the UK’s significant inflation-linked debt increased in value with rising prices.

  • State Support Measures: Expensive measures to support households mitigated the potential benefits of inflation on debt.
  • Inflation-Linked Debt: The UK’s substantial inflation-linked debt grew in value, adding to financial burdens.

Future Economic Outlook

Although inflation is cooling, its legacy remains. Prices in the UK are approximately 15% higher than they would have been if inflation had consistently remained at 2%. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts that GDP will be around 2% lower by the end of next year compared to pre-crisis expectations, equating to a £1,900 per household hit to GDP in today’s prices.

  • Higher Prices: Persistent inflation has led to a permanent increase in price levels.
  • GDP Impact: Lower than expected GDP growth reflects the long-term economic consequences of the inflation crisis.

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