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Much of the current rise in inflation has been due to rapidly rising food, energy, and transport costs. Food prices are 9.9% higher than a year ago, while Electricity and Gas prices have risen by 53.6% and 95.4% respectively compared to a year before, driven by supply chain issues and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
When inflation reared its head last summer, many economists expected it to be a ‘transitory re-set’ after pandemic restrictions lifting released pent up demand. The consensus now is for inflation to remain higher for longer. In fact, the Bank of England expects inflation will peak at 13% in Q4 2022 driven by continually rising household energy prices.
How long inflation will remain at this level is still unknown and depends on a variety of factors, including when the Russia Ukraine war ends, and how the ongoing war impacts upon gas, grain, and other commodity flows into the autumn and winter.
Higher inflation is obviously concerning for many households. To understand how this could be the main challenge facing NI households, we need to understand household income and spending profiles. According to the ONS Family Spending Survey, 12% of NI household’s weekly expenditure goes towards energy/fuel costs, 4 percentage points higher than the overall UK figure. NI households are worryingly more exposed to recent energy price movements, a particular concern given where inflationary pressures are largely concentrated.
When looking at incomes, the average NI worker earns £24,000 per year. While this is the highest level on record, adjusting for inflation means that real wages are lower than they were in 2005.
Taken together, the higher level of exposure to energy costs and reduced levels of real spending power is prompting the emergence of the ‘cut back economy’, where desirable goods have to be forgone for essential items, and food choices are shifting to lower cost substitutes. In fact, 49% of respondents to the Danske Bank Consumer Confidence survey expected to spend less on ‘expensive items’ to accommodate these price rises.
Of course, businesses are exposed to the same inflation pressures as consumers, with some local businesses already having to close due to mounting input costs, having taken a view that these increased costs can’t be passed onto an already squeezed consumer.
Of concern for business and consumers is that inflation pressures look set to continue for some time. Best estimates suggest that inflation will peak in the autumn before starting a slow decline back to trend. Much of how accurate that proves to be will depend on energy costs in the autumn as we turn the heat back on.