Social Justice

Is the cost of living crisis over and will prices in the UK ever come down?

What does the inflation rate mean for you? Will prices come down? Here's what you need to know about whether the cost of living crisis will ever end

Fresh groceries at a shop in London, UK, in February 2023. Photographer: Jose Sarmento Matos/Bloomberg

It feels like the cost of living crisis has lasted an age. Although inflation is nearing normal levels, people have faced prices rising at rates not seen in decades while their wages have struggled to keep up. So is the cost of living crisis nearly over, and will prices ever come down?

Inflation fell to 2.3% in the year to April 2024, down from 3.2% the month before. That’s the lowest level in nearly three years, and close to the Bank of England’s 2% target.

But lower inflation rate doesn’t mean prices are falling – in fact, they are still rising, just at a slower rate.

Food and non-alcoholic drink prices are up by 2.9% on last year. But they are 32% higher than they were in July 2021, according to the Resolution Foundation.

People are still feeling the impact of the cost of living crisis. Families are struggling with debt and many have spent far too long sacrificing essentials with nothing left.

So, what does inflation actually mean for you? We break down everything you need to know about whether the cost of living crisis is ever actually going to come to an end. 

What actually is inflation? And what does it mean for me?

The term “inflation” is the technical way of describing the rate at which prices are rising. But what does it actually mean and how does it impact your life? If you’ve noticed the cost of a bunch of bananas or a pack of loo rolls is still getting more expensive and your household bills keep on soaring, that’s because inflation has been high for, well, far too long at this point. The higher the inflation rate, the faster your bills increase.

The inflation rate of 2.3% in April 2024 means prices have risen by 2.3% on average in comparison to what they were in April 2023. Prices are still increasing and will continue to do so as long as inflation is in the positive figures.

If you want to see just how much more expensive your shopping basket is going to be as a result of inflation, you could use a price comparison website like Trolley. It has a grocery price index with data showing how much all your basic supermarket items have increased in recent months. 

Will prices in the UK ever come down?

The simple answer is that UK prices across the board will probably never come down – and almost certainly not by very much – but our wages are supposed to keep up with rising prices to make us less likely to feel the pinch. 

For prices in the UK to fall, inflation would need to go into negative figures, often called deflation. That is a rarity. The last time this happened was in 2015 when prices fell by a grand total of 0.1% because of a sudden drop in the price of oil.

Before that was in 2009, during the global financial crisis, but economists disagree on the details as only one measure of prices was negative. You have to go back to 1960 to find another example of deflation.

But don’t panic. The cost of living crisis will come to an end eventually. Prices will stabilise and grow more slowly and real wages should catch up, with progress being made on this already. 

Recent ONS data shows that annual earnings growth, excluding bonuses, was 6% in the three months to February compared with a year earlier. After taking inflation into account, real pay growth was 2.4%, the highest since July 2021.

However, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has pointed out, post-tax earnings for the average family remain on course to be £380 per year lower at the beginning of 2025 compared with the start of 2021 – and this gap is not expected to close until 2029.

There has been a rise in unemployment – companies were hit by high interest rates and more than 200,000 job cuts were made between May and July last year. 

In February this year, the UK economic inactivity rate for those aged 16 to 64 years was 22.2%, which means about 275,000 more people than a year ago.

People face debt which has built up as they have struggled to cover soaring costs. A record 6.7 million people in the UK fell behind on bills in the six months up to March 2024.

Interest rates have also led to mortgage payments rising. And as a consequence of this, landlords have increased rents. Many people face higher costs for housing. 

When will the cost of living crisis end?

The cost of living crisis will be over once prices stabilise and wages have risen enough to match. With record rises in wage growth and inflation easing, the cost of living crisis “appears to be coming to an end”.

But around 90% of Brits believe that the cost of living crisis is still ongoing, according to new polling from campaign group Stop the Squeeze.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that living standards are expected to recover more quickly than previously forecast. The financial year 2022-203 saw the largest year-on-year drop in living standards since records began in the 1950s.

But it now forecasts real household disposable income per person to recover its pre-pandemic peak by 2025-26, two years earlier than in the November forecast.

But campaigners warn that the “real damage has already been done”.

Megan Davies from the Stop the Squeeze campaign said: “Lower inflation doesn’t mean the cost of living crisis is over, in fact for many families things are going to get worse rather than better.

“It’s no use telling people the economy is booming when they are close to going bust, declaring job done will only fuel the sense that the government doesn’t understand how squeezed people are feeling.

“Instead of a victory lap, we need a real cost of living plan for Britain, focused on addressing the root causes of the crisis and getting people’s incomes up and their bills down.”

The Bank of England predicted that inflation will be back to “normal levels” within the next few months, by which they mean around 2%, but then it will rise slightly.

An inflation rate of 2% is the target the government has set. But it doesn’t mean the cost of those essentials will come down. They’ll keep on rising.



Will energy bills come down? 

Energy bills dropped in April 2024.

Ofgem’s new energy cap means average households will pay an average of £1,690 each year for their electricity and gas from April, the lowest level in two years. 

That’s down from Ofgem’s price cap of £1,928 in January.

Every three months, the energy regulator reviews and updates the price cap to reflect changes in the cost of energy and inflation. It’s intended to ensure bills are fair.

But it doesn’t mean that your household bills can’t exceed £1,690 – some households will pay more and others less. It all depends on how much energy you use, as well as your circumstances like where you live and the energy efficiency of your property.

It is expected to drop again to £1,574.37 from July, according to analysis from consultancy Cornwall Insight.

“The price cap does not protect those who simply cannot afford the cost of keeping warm,” Adam Scorer, the chief executive of National Energy Action, previously said. “That requires direct government intervention through bill support, social tariffs and energy efficiency.”

The government’s energy rebate scheme, a discount on household energy bills, ended in March last year. This had been a lifeline to many people, helping them save around £66 each month.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said: “Three years of staggering energy bills have placed an unbearable strain on household finances up and down the country. Household energy debt is at record levels, millions of people are living in cold, damp homes and children are suffering in mouldy conditions.  

“Everybody can see what is happening in Britain’s broken energy system and it is time for politicians to unite to enact the measures needed to end fuel poverty. This includes cross-party consensus on a long-term plan to help all households upgrade their homes and short-term financial support for households most in need.”

Will house prices come down?

House prices are still increasing. Average UK house prices increased by 1.8% in the 12 months to March, according to official figures. The ONS said average house prices are now at £283,000.

House price increase was highest in Yorkshire and the Humber where prices increased by 2.2% in the year to March 2024. In London, however, house prices fell by 0.9%.

Meanwhile, UK private rents increased by 8.9% in the year to April. The Work Foundation has said renters in Britain are having to find £103 more a month than they were last year. 

This is most acute for workers in London where rents are now 10.8% higher than in 2023, and will hit insecure workers hardest as they earn on average £3,276 less than those in secure jobs.

Rebecca Florisson, principal analyst at the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said: “With only 30% of employers preparing to give above inflation pay rises in 2024, many private renters will have little breathing room to pay their increased rental costs which are already outpacing wage increases. 

“This will be particularly challenging for the 1.4 million private renters in severely insecure work, who are most vulnerable to rent hikes while managing irregular hours and variable pay checks.

“There is more bad news for renters as UK house prices have risen by 1.8% on the year, putting the opportunity of buying a house further out of reach for many cash-strapped private renters.”

The number of people in mortgage arrears rose 25% over 2023. Higher mortgage rates could soon hit thousands of households, with almost 900,000 UK mortgages up for renewal in the first three quarters of 2024.

But the latest boost in house prices good news for some in the property sector. Nathan Emerson, the chief execuitive of Propertymark, which represents estate agents, said: “The housing market is a key indicator regarding wider economic health, and it is extremely positive to see further uplift and confidence within the housing sector.

“As inflation tracks downwards, it is widely anticipated the Bank of England will consider a reduction in its base rate and at this point we hope to see lenders offering a much wider range of competitive and highly targeted deals.”

Read more about house prices here.

Are prices rising at the same rate for everyone?

Unfortunately not. Prices are rising even faster for poorer households. This is because the costs of essentials are soaring at higher rates, and low-income families typically spend a greater proportion of their income on these items. 

Food and non-alcoholic drink prices have risen by 2.9% in the year to March, which is still higher than the overall inflation rate. And it’s up by 32% since July 2021.

The Resolution Foundation has found that poorer families are most affected by surging food prices as they spend a far greater share of their family budgets on food (14%, compared to 9% for the highest-income households).

As a result, the effective inflation rate for the poorest tenth of households is around 2% higher than it is for the richest tenth of households.

Benefits are not stretching far enough to help those on the lowest incomes afford the basic essentials.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation posted on X: “The rate of inflation is coming down. But the damage of the last few years remains an open wound that continues to go mostly untreated.

“The prime minister says the plan is working and the chancellor says the economy is returning to full health. However, inflation is not a measure of poverty and celebrating this figure ignores the gravity of the broader context of poverty in the UK.”

The world’s five richest men have £688 billion of wealth between them. That’s boomed by £367bn in the last five years.

Meanwhile, the wealth of the poorest 60% – encompassing nearly five billion people – has fallen. What does this all mean exactly? The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. 

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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