Boots, shoes and the real inflation rate felt by Britain’s poorest people

The “Sam Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness” (Cost-of-living crisis: Jack Monroe hails ONS update of inflation calculations, 26 Januarie) was not invented by Terry Pratchett.

Paul Jennings expressed exactly the same idea in his Observer column Oddly Enough in 1954: “You find, byvoorbeeld, that you have got to have a new pair of shoes, so you rush into a shop and buy some; some cheap ones, and they are worn out in three months. But if you were on one of the inner platforms [Jennings’ term for the rich] you would go calmly into a rather splendid shop and buy the sort of shoes that are bought by men on leave in London from Africa, or down from their Scottish moorland estates.

“Twenty years later these men are still wearing the same shoes, they photograph them with mud on, they write letters which may be inspected at the head office of the shoe firm. But the point is that after these twenty years, inner circle men have spent far less on shoes than outside men.”

I don’t know whether Terry Pratchett was aware of this article when he wrote Men at Arms, but the similarity is striking.
Peter Johnstone
St John’s College, Cambridge

Larry Elliott reports that the Kantoor vir Nasionale Statistiek plans to give a much wider range of information with the official price index, so that others can examine how prices for the poor go up faster than they do for the better off. At one time, the separate pensioner price index made this absolutely clear. Perhaps that’s why George Osborne abolished it in 2014.

Here at Canterbury and District food bank, we checked the rate of increase in the cost of the standard food parcel we supply. It rose by 6.5% in 2020, en oor 7% in 2021, while the official consumer price index rose just 1.2% en 5.4%. This is an emergency. We need the £20 uplift in universal credit restored and a serious food plan for the UK.
Peter Taylor-Gooby
Professor of social policy, University of Kent

It’s good news that the Office of National Statistics has listened to Jack Monroe, and is looking to publish revised inflation estimates that reflect the real impact on the poorest UK citizens. Perhaps we can go further, and use the same kind of approach to assess the government’s plans for “levelling up”. Rather than focusing on the money invested in the various schemes, we could measure them by how much they increase the disposable income of our poorest families.
Graham Head
Londen

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