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Hopes and fears: latest price changes may flatter to deceive

Looking for a better 2024 with grounds for hope.

Hopes and fears have dominated Citizens Advice cost–of-living campaigns othroughout 2023. They rise and fall with official statistics and our own national and local data.
Research & Campaigns Team, Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell. (2-minute read)

Price inflation in the year to November* was the latest example. The standard CPI rate was 3.9%, down more than expected from 4.6% in October. This was welcome in itself but also because it raised hopes of lower interest rates sooner than expected.


Let’s dwell on the upside. Prices are still rising but “more slowly” (as every news presenter rightly pointed out). In fact fuel is quite a lot cheaper and food inflation has “halved over the year”. Although the Bank of England is keen to dampen talk of a rate cut, ‘the markets’ seem to think it will happen to the great relief of those who must re-mortgage in 2024.

Yet welcome news may also flatter to deceive. There’s lot of ‘small print’ that really isn’t. For many households it means no quick easing in the cost crisis.

Small print?
Food inflation
Price inflation in staple food items reached extraordinary levels.

The energy price cap rises in January and with general government support at an end most households will get higher bills. Food inflation in November was still over 9% and 27% higher than 2 years ago! Financial help is available for the worst off, but for those not eligible and ‘only scraping by’** these essentials really hurt.  

Our clients at CAEE are affected as much as others. But more clients with debt problems ask for help with a different issue, council tax arrears. This is unfortunate because this essential bill seems certain to rise in April.

There’s an irony here in that vulnerable people and those on low incomes rely more than others on council-run services; and this dependence intersects in all sorts of ways with their experience of the cost-of-living crisis.  

Living down 

Throughout the year we reported official price movements often alongside Citizens Advice cost-of-living briefings. Sadly, a quick look-back shows 2023 living down to our story in May quoting Citizens Advice: Our bleakest ever start to a year:

  • Crunched, squeezed, hit for 6 (June)
  • Two Cheers, Chancellor. Now our clients need long-term solutions (September)
  • Cost of living good news (if only) (July)
  • Is April the cruellest month? (April!)
  • A new debt crisis and housing emergency (February).
mum and son
Essentials inflation hits families on low incomes hardest.

At this point then we might almost be justified in reaching for the old cliche – the only way is up. Still, the chancellor did raise housing benefit and index benefits as normal; and inflation is likely to fall, along with (at some point) interest rates.

Meanwhile at CAEE we will continue to do our best to help residents with problems that go much wider than the cost of living (pervasive though it is). In 2023 we helped almost 2,500 clients, advised on 8,000 issues and recovered more than £1m for them in reimbursements.

We’re proud of our service and hope our supporters, funders and residents are too. We wish them all the season’s greetings and an improving new year!

* Office for National Statistics, 20/12/23
** Mention by Martin Lewis at CA December Briefing.

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