Pasta, bread and crisps among biggest UK budget food price increases

New way of gathering figures by ONS highlights cost of living pressures on struggling households

Source > Guardian

By Richard Partington Economics correspondent

30 May 2022 12.08 BST

UK consumers are facing significantly bigger increases in the price of some budget food items including pasta, crisps and bread, new experimental data shows, as poorer families bear the brunt of the cost of living crisis.

Highlighting the challenge for low-income households, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed prices for some low-cost groceries increased at a much faster rate than general inflation in the year to April.

The price of pasta jumped the most from a basket of 30 basic food items compiled by government statisticians, with an increase of 50% from a year earlier – more than five times the headline rate of inflation of 9% for the same period.

The figures also highlighted above-average-inflation price rises for crisps (up 17%), bread (16%), minced beef (16%) and rice (15%).

The ONS decided to compile the experimental data, tracking price changes for the lowest-cost everyday groceries sold by supermarkets online, after the anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe highlighted the risks facing the poorest households in Britain from much faster increases in the price of budget brand items.

However, the ONS said it found the inflation rate overall for the 30 everyday groceries it selected was about 6%, roughly the same as the 6.7% average inflation rate for food and non-alcoholic drinks in the past year, with the price of some budget food items including potatoes, cheese and pizza falling over the period.

Monroe, who held talks with the ONS over compiling the data, welcomed the publication of the figures, saying they backed up her own research and evidence from January. “The hikes in the value brands and basics have been much higher than average inflation stats,” she tweeted.

“As I have said for 10 years now, and as many others have pointed out before + alongside me, it’s FAR more expensive to be poor. And now the literal experts in data gathering and statistics are helpfully, methodically, forensically backing that up. This feels like huge progress.”

Analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests the increase in gas and electricity bills expected this October could lead to average annual inflation rates of as high as 14% for the poorest 10th of households, compared with 8% for the richest. This is because lower-income families spend a larger share of their budgets on basics such as food and energy than richer households.

The April rate for UK inflation hit its highest rate since 1982 against a backdrop of soaring global energy prices, exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Bank of England has warned the measure for the annual jump in living costs could hit 10% later this year.

With the government facing heavy pressure over its handling of the cost of living crisis, Rishi Sunak announced a £15bn package of financial support targeted at lower-income households last week.

According to the latest snapshot from the ONS, the average lowest price of 13 out of 30 groceries, compiled from internet prices at seven retailers, rose at a faster rate than the official inflation measure for food and non-alcoholic drink.

In cash terms, the largest price rises, on average, were measured for beef mince (up 32p for 500g to £2.34) and chicken breast (up 28p to £3.50 for 600g). Pasta prices rose by 17p, while vegetable oil was up 14p and crisps and rice by 12p.

However, some low-cost items fell in price, including a 14% fall for potatoes and a 7% drop in the price of cheese, as well as for pizza (4%), and chips and sausages (3%).

The sharp rise in price for pasta and bread comes amid fears Russia’s war in Ukraine could exacerbate global food poverty by driving up the cost of wheat and other key agricultural commodities typically exported by the two countries in vast quantities. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, while Ukraine, known as the “bread basket of Europe”, is the fifth-largest.

Sainsbury’s said it would plough a further £500m into offsetting rising costs in an effort to keep prices lower for shoppers. Announcing the move, the supermarket group’s chief executive, Simon Roberts, said the cost of living was “having a huge impact on our customers’ and colleagues’ lives”. He said the focus would be on key items such as milk, eggs, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables and key household essentials.

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