Budget range inflation hits 17%: unreliable prices hit families

The prices of supermarket budget ranges are up 17% in the year to September – slightly more than the 15% rise in the official price of food. This is a huge jump from 7% in the year to April. Some budget range prices have risen far faster – with vegetable oil up 65% in a year, pasta up 60% and tea up 46%.

Prices fell for four of the 30 items – including minced beef (down 7%) and orange juice (down 9%). Between April and September, the three biggest rises in monetary terms were vegetable oil (up 80p a litre to £2.58), chips (up 27p to £1.37 for 1.5kg) and milk (up 25p to £1.52 for four pints).

The ONS has issued experimental figures covering inflation among supermarket budget ranges. It scraped the prices of 30 low-cost items from supermarket websites, in a process it says is less robust than official data collection: Tracking the price of the lowest-cost grocery items, UK, experimental analysis – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Squeezing every morsel of food from every last penny is incredibly difficult. Rapidly rising prices make it enormously challenging to manage on the lowest incomes, not just because everything is more expensive, but because of how changeable prices are.

“When you’re working on an incredibly tight budget, rising prices are already making life impossible. Since April, the annual rate of inflation of the budget ranges has jumped from 7% to 17% . Some of the rises are eye-watering, with pasta up 60% and tea up 46% in a year.  In monetary terms, for average earners, each individual rise doesn’t seem impossible to absorb into your budget – with milk up 25p since April, for example. However, when everything is rising, and you were already budgeting to the last penny, it makes life far harder.

“This set of figures also reveals the problems posed by supply issues. When a budget item isn’t available, shoppers are forced to trade up to the next cheapest version, which can be far pricier. This is what happened to the researchers looking for vegetable oil, which is one reason why it’s showing a 65% rise in a year. When you’re relying on public transport, you can’t necessarily afford to return to the supermarket when the item is available. If you’re on foot, you may not have the time for another return journey, so you are subject to the supplies in your local store at the time. It makes it even more difficult to manage.

“When you’re earning more, the solutions to not overspending include trading down to budget brands, and taking a shopping list. When you’re on a very low income, you’re already doing both of these things, but big jumps in prices or lack of availability can throw your spending off track entirely.  There’s every chance you’re also shopping at the cheapest supermarket you can reach, timing your shop to take advantage of yellow sticker items, and swapping fresh food for tinned or frozen. It leaves very few options other than simply buying less than you need. It’s no wonder that one in 50 people told the Office for National Statistics that they had needed the help of food banks or charities.”