The prices of the lowest-cost grocery items in the UK have not risen faster than average food prices, the Office for National Statistics said on Monday in experimental new research.
The statistics agency was prompted into action by anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe, who complained in January that supermarkets were increasing the cost of value brands by more than general inflation.
After scraping web prices from seven supermarkets for a year in what it described as “highly experimental” analysis, the ONS did not find evidence to substantiate Monroe’s claims.
It found that some items, such as the cheapest pasta, had risen 50 per cent in price and faster than standard pasta, but the cheapest potatoes, cheese, chips, sausages and pizza had all fallen in price over the year to April 2022.
Overall, the cheapest goods on sale in supermarkets had risen 6 per cent in price over the past year, when weighted both by the amount spent on different items and the retailers used, while general grocery inflation over the same period was 6.7 per cent.
The ONS said: “The lowest-priced items have increased in cost by around as much as average food and non-alcoholic drinks prices.”
Some of the cheapest items, such as pasta, rose sharply in price towards the end of 2021, while others, such as sausages, had stable prices throughout the year. The ONS did not find clear patterns across cheap products.
The agency added that there were limitations to the findings because it had to rely on products that were listed on retailers’ websites and the focus on the cheapest possible items restricted the number of price quotes and added volatility to the comparisons.
Monroe claimed on Twitter the research backed up her original view that the published inflation figures underestimated price rises of the cheapest products. She added that she would write more fully on the subject on her website later.
While the ONS research did not show the cheapest items were rising faster in price, the latest inflation figures did show low income households were hit by a higher inflation rate than higher income households because low income households spend more of their budgets on gas and electricity and energy prices were 70 per cent higher in April than a year earlier.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank showed that, on average, this meant inflation was over 10.9 per cent for the poorest tenth of the population while it was 7.9 per cent for the richest tenth.
This difference is likely to become starker in October when the price cap for gas and electricity is likely to rise again by about 40 per cent, according to Ofgem, the regulator.
But those on the lowest incomes will receive significant protection from the government, which will provide a one-off payment of £650 for all recipients of means-tested benefits in July.