We are seeing a lot of discussion at present about the threat of higher inflation, and this means that we see regular estimates of the current rate of inflation. There is a ‘preferred’ rate calculation, which always sounds a bit odd – as if the government statistical office was offered several kinds of inflation in the inflation shop, and said ‘I think I prefer that one, blue doesn’t suit me.’ You can take out mortgage payments or leave them in, but really that is about the only choice.
Thinking about this and our over 50s market, I suspect the real rate of inflation for the over 50s is unlike that experienced by someone in their early 20s, or for a young family.
Price rises are happening at quite different rates in different markets. I have just filled up our house heating-oil tank – seven years ago this cost me just over £300, this week it has cost me £1,260. Yet if I wanted to buy a computer, or a flat screen TV, I would be paying far less than a few years ago. Most electronics have come down in price appreciably, while they have become better and faster over the same time.
I live in the country, with no access to mains gas, and a need to use a car to travel to most places – on a sunny day I might use a bicycle, but the opportunity to be squashed by a 4X4 up from London for the weekend does not always appeal. I already have all the furniture I could want, and am pretty content without a flat-screen HD television. Food, heating and basics take up most of my spending. As a consequence, my personal rate of inflation is almost certainly way above the level given by official statistics. If I were a 20 year old, living with parents, and spending on alcoholic drinks, entertainment, clothes and electronic gadgets, I would probably be experiencing virtually nil inflation (except perhaps the waistline). I might even be eying up the property market just now, waiting for the cost of a new home to reduce enough for me to buy it, and then to fill it with low-priced furniture.
What has happened is that the ‘basics’ such as fuel and food have been hit very hard by increased demand, much of it ironically from the countries who are pushing out the cheap electronics, clothing etc. which are dropping in price in our market. Falls in house prices, which can be seen as good news for the first time buyer, are potentially very bad news for older people who may have been counting on recouping some or all of the capital value of their (often mortgage-free) homes to help in their retirement. So, while they are facing a high rate of inflation for the basics of life, their capital base is actually shrinking.
This means that an inflation rate which is an average across the whole range of ages and situations in the country means little for an individual.
The reality of the current situation is that the less you spend, the higher your personal rate of inflation is likely to be. If you were in the market for a luxury power boat, apparently you could get a discount from the £1million price tag this month. Handy, but the mixed corn I feed my hens has gone up by 50% lately, so I’ll probably forego the boat. If one only spent on food, energy suppliers, and council tax, then one could be looking at a rate of inflation way over 25% per annum.
The point of all this is that when the government next comes to review pension levels, it really means very little to many seniors to know what the overall rate of inflation is. Far more important is the rate of inflation in their spending pattern, and changes in state pension ought to reflect their experience rather than an overall average.
Have a think about your own rate of inflation, and let us know what you calculate it to be, and perhaps we can start a more realistic debate on this subject.