It’s a no-brainer that teens are the biggest fans of the Twilight series’ final chapter that hit the box office this weekend.
Announcement by Office for National Statistics of goods used to measure inflation is a portrait of the way we shop now
First it was the clunky old PC. Then it was the laptop. Now, the age of the computer tablet has been marked by its inclusion in the basket of goods and services used by the government to calculate the annual inflation rate.
In what is the statistical world’s version of Vogue or Tatler, the annual announcement by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) of what is going to be used for the next 12 months to calculate the cost of living is a way of showing what’s hot and what’s not. The Bank of England needs to know what consumers are spending their money on so from now on the monthly inflation figures will include sales of the Apple iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, the latest phase in making computing smaller, lighter and more portable.
Meanwhile, teenagers who download the latest volume of the Twilight saga to their tablets can do so in the knowledge that teenage fiction has for the first time attracted the attention of the ONS number crunchers.
Other changes this year have less to do with the digital revolution or trends in literature and more to do with making the basket of goods and services more representative. Fresh pineapples come in, as do four-packs of stout, hot oat cereals, takeaway chicken and chips and walking boots.
Boiled sweets have been bumped out in favour of a more broadly defined “bag of sweets not chocolate” to reflect the increasing popularity of foam sweets such as Haribo in recent years.
Heading for statistical obscurity are step ladders (not because they have fallen into disuse by builders and handymen but because a near-alternative is included) and glass ovenware casserole dishes, now found in theatrical revivals of Abigail’s Party but not in the inflation basket. For those who look back longingly to when Robert Carrier rather than Jamie Oliver was the nation’s TV chef, another culinary remnant of the 1970s – Chicken Kiev – is still included.
The increasing popularity of digital cameras means that the visit to Boots for a film to be developed is no longer included in the monthly ONS snapshot of price movements. In addition, the ONS has recognised the increasing tendency of households to pay for their telephone, television and internet in one package by including bundled communication services in the monthly inflation count.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the latest stage in a 98-year process to make the inflation figures more accurate. The first retail price index (RPI) was published on the eve of the outbreak of the first world war in 1914 and was then dominated by food and shelter. Today, the ONS attempts to measure the cost of living by noting the prices of 700 separate goods and services in 150 different areas of the UK, but one of the big changes in recent years has been the spread of digital technology, with sales of equipment and services booming.
The ONS said: “As in most years, developments in technology influence the basket update and in 2012 tablet computers are being included for the first time.
“This mirrors the evolution of computers through desktop personal computers, laptops and now tablets, and they are being introduced to capture price changes in this rapidly expanding market.”
The inclusion of tablet computers comes less than a week after Apple unveiled its latest iPad model, while a number of rival devices, such as the BlackBerry Playbook, Asus Transformer Prime and Motorola Xoom 2 will step up competition in the market.
Smartphones and the “apps” that run on them were added to the basket last year, replacing mobile phone downloads such as ringtones and wallpaper.
Since 1996, there have been two key measures of inflation calculated by the ONS: the RPI and the consumer price index (CPI), the yardstick used by the Bank of England to set interest rates. The CPI measure showed the annual inflation rate in January at 3.6%, almost double the official target of 2%, but well down on last autumn’s peak of 5.2%. The RPI record of 25% was reached in 1975.
The ONS, which logs 180,000 prices across the country each month, said: “A convenient way of thinking about both the CPI and RPI is to imagine a shopping basket containing those goods and services on which people typically spend their money. As the prices of the various items in the basket change over time, so does the total cost of the basket. Movements in the CPI and RPI represent the changing cost of this representative shopping basket.”
Over the past 25 years, the proportion of the average household budget spent on food has dropped from 16.7% to 11.4%, while that for clothes has fallen from 7.4% to 4.5%. A smaller slice of consumer income goes on alcohol and tobacco than it did a quarter of a century ago, but almost a quarter of spending, 23.7%, is now on housing costs, up from 15.7% in 1987. The proportion of income spent on household and leisure services has also increased sharply.
Slow, joyless, and loaded with unintentionally humorous moments, Breaking Dawn Part 1 may satisfy the Twilight faithful, but it’s strictly for fans of the franchise.
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