I'm at something of a loss to understand why the government is determined to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of inflation that excludes housing costs, when determining how much prices for the fabled hard working British family are increasing. After all, along with food and heating, housing is one of the absolute must haves for all of us. However, the fact that it is generally lower than the Retail Price Index (RPI) may point us in the right direction.
And that is particularly important in the month of September, for it is that month's inflation figure that dictates the rise in pensions and in state benefits. And the CPI's 5.2% is decidedly more manageable for the government, than the RPI's 5.6%.
Even using the lower measure, the estimated cost of the increase is £1.2 billion: a large amount given the disastrous state of the British Exchequer.
As Gordon Brown found, when he palmed pensioners off with a 50p a week rise, it's not politic to give a derisory sum to the retired, especially when you've already nabbed between £50 and £100 a year from their meagre incomes to pay back the bankers' bail out. They could be said to have done their bit.
However, no such sympathy is widely felt for the unemployed, who are characterised as being work-shy, and the sick, who are characterised as shirkers hiding behind maladies imaginaires.
And so it is that it has been trailed widely that all benefits apart from retirement pensions, won't, this year, increase at the rate of inflation.
Mostly people on benefits are the poorest in the country. Yes, there are exceptions,I know, but in reality relatively few, despite what the Sun and the Daily Mail would have us believe. Many are working in low paid jobs and have tax credits, many have been thrown out of work recently by government cuts and can find nothing else. And hard though it may be to believe, many of the people on Incapacity Benefit have illnesses which lay them horribly low.
For people on these low incomes, whether they be waged or unwaged, times are very hard. The bulk of their income goes on food and heating, clothes and council tax water payments (in Scotland). So with food inflation at around 10% and fuel inflation even higher, their incomes are stretched to breaking point. Edwina Currie may have laughed at the notion that people in the UK were going hungry, but that only shows how completely out of touch she is (if a fling with John Major wasn't enough to indicate that already).
I realise that for civil servants on £20,000 who have not had a pay rise for the last couple of years, and won't for the next couple of years, it may be galling to see benefit claimants pick up a 5% rise. But none of them was too worried when inflation was 1% and they carried off pay rises of 4% and more. The thing is, you either set these benefits by the rate of inflation, or by the rate of wage increases. You can't pick and choose...well, not if you set out to play fair.
I hope that the government will give careful thought to how they proceed with this. You can only push people so far before they start to get really cross, and the current government seems determined to pick fights with everyone at the same time.