The cost of living

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Vertigowooyay
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The cost of living

Post by Vertigowooyay » Wed Jan 26, 2022 10:35 am

Jack Munroe (@BootstrapCook on Twitter) recently posted a tremendous thread - read by over 15 million, apparently - about how the cost of living index is, basically not helpful. It’s an incredibly enlightening read - https://twitter.com/bootstrapcook/statu ... 09252?s=21

Essentially, basic staples like rice, pasta and fresh fruit and veg have rocketed in price. Luxury food items have not. So the poor are feeling the brunt of the cost of living rise, as to flatten it out across the whole population is misleading.

Munroe is compiling her own index, more representative of the effect on the poor, and joked about calling it The Vimes Boots Index - and now this:

https://twitter.com/bootstrapcook/statu ... 64230?s=21

So bravo Jack, and bravo the Pratchett Estate.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by FlammableFlower » Wed Jan 26, 2022 11:16 am

She is bl..dy fantastic

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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 11:25 am

She is bl..dy fantastic, but I'm not convinced by her opening argument.

It could in fact be the supply chain issues - lorry drivers, staff shortages from Covid, Brexit. That's what happened at the worst of it, de-prioritsing deliveries of non-core products. The outcome was a reduction in the number of lines plus a reduction in promotions.

So what she sees as supermarkets deliberately cutting the value products could be a supply issue rather than a pricing issue.

Competition between supermarkets is currently fiercer than we've seen before. Lidl and Aldi have won huge market share by coming in with value propositions. Iceland also competes in that space. I think it would be a priori surprising for Tescos etc to effectively raise their prices in this competitive sector.

There's certainly general inflation making a trolley of your weekly shop in the supermarket cost significantly more, but I'd be surprised if there's a genuine bias against the cheaper stuff.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 2:02 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 11:25 am
She is bl..dy fantastic, but I'm not convinced by her opening argument.

It could in fact be the supply chain issues - lorry drivers, staff shortages from Covid, Brexit. That's what happened at the worst of it, de-prioritsing deliveries of non-core products. The outcome was a reduction in the number of lines plus a reduction in promotions.

So what she sees as supermarkets deliberately cutting the value products could be a supply issue rather than a pricing issue.
It doesn't matter if the proximate cause is supply chain or the supermarkets cutting lines as a choice. What matters is that the cheap lines that have been essential to keeping a significant number of poorer people fed are now no longer available. That then has important implications for national government policy, which they seem to only be viewing through the lens of general inflation.

In any case, which lines the supermarkets prioritize while working through supply chain issues is a choice they make - a rational one, based on profits and sales, and which are easiest to deal with, but one that causes serious knock-on effects.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by Aitch » Wed Jan 26, 2022 2:02 pm

Should anyone be interested, the basket is listed in this PDF file. On this page if it doesn't open. Annex A is the relevant table.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:16 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 2:02 pm
lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 11:25 am
She is bl..dy fantastic, but I'm not convinced by her opening argument.

It could in fact be the supply chain issues - lorry drivers, staff shortages from Covid, Brexit. That's what happened at the worst of it, de-prioritsing deliveries of non-core products. The outcome was a reduction in the number of lines plus a reduction in promotions.

So what she sees as supermarkets deliberately cutting the value products could be a supply issue rather than a pricing issue.
It doesn't matter if the proximate cause is supply chain or the supermarkets cutting lines as a choice. What matters is that the cheap lines that have been essential to keeping a significant number of poorer people fed are now no longer available. That then has important implications for national government policy, which they seem to only be viewing through the lens of general inflation.

In any case, which lines the supermarkets prioritize while working through supply chain issues is a choice they make - a rational one, based on profits and sales, and which are easiest to deal with, but one that causes serious knock-on effects.
Inflation doesn't work like this though.

People change behaviours in response to changes in prices. Often unconsciously. If pasta goes up but bread goes down, they switch. If apples are expensive they buy more bananas. And above all people are promiscuous between shops, getting some items from Aldi and some from Iceland, instead of doing a single big shop at Tesco.

I'm worried Monroe simply took her usual Sainsburys, which might have its own individual temporary pressures on stock, and extended outwards to think it's all shops. I suspect that switching to Lidl would restore a lot of the cheap ranges previously available to her.

And it's important to remember inflation is an average. There are always outliers on either side. Cherry picking is inherently flawed as a methodology.

The ONS takes a lot of care with inflation data. They constantly check whether it's appropriate for all income deciles - and usually it is. There are times when the top income deciles will see a higher average inflation in their consumption set or vice versa - and the ONS will notice. They update the 700 items and change the weightings as necessary.

I'd pay much more attention to ONS data than a cherry picked index. Maybe value food has gone up, but children's shoes have gone down. Used cars have gone up a lot but computer games have gone down a lot. Office clothing has gone up, leisurewear has gone down. A personalised inflation index is all very well, and so is trying to do an inflation index focused on the poorest 10%, but it's got to be done properly rather than from a collection of prices from one supermarket.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:27 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:16 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 2:02 pm
lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 11:25 am
She is bl..dy fantastic, but I'm not convinced by her opening argument.

It could in fact be the supply chain issues - lorry drivers, staff shortages from Covid, Brexit. That's what happened at the worst of it, de-prioritsing deliveries of non-core products. The outcome was a reduction in the number of lines plus a reduction in promotions.

So what she sees as supermarkets deliberately cutting the value products could be a supply issue rather than a pricing issue.
It doesn't matter if the proximate cause is supply chain or the supermarkets cutting lines as a choice. What matters is that the cheap lines that have been essential to keeping a significant number of poorer people fed are now no longer available. That then has important implications for national government policy, which they seem to only be viewing through the lens of general inflation.

In any case, which lines the supermarkets prioritize while working through supply chain issues is a choice they make - a rational one, based on profits and sales, and which are easiest to deal with, but one that causes serious knock-on effects.
Inflation doesn't work like this though.

People change behaviours in response to changes in prices. Often unconsciously. If pasta goes up but bread goes down, they switch. If apples are expensive they buy more bananas. And above all people are promiscuous between shops, getting some items from Aldi and some from Iceland, instead of doing a single big shop at Tesco.

I'm worried Monroe simply took her usual Sainsburys, which might have its own individual temporary pressures on stock, and extended outwards to think it's all shops. I suspect that switching to Lidl would restore a lot of the cheap ranges previously available to her.
If you think this, you are obviously unfamiliar with Monroe's work - what she does is all about redesigning the food shop to make optimal use of what's available at any given time, including offers, marked down produce, etc.

The point she is making is that offers on cheaper items have reduced, and that the cheap basics ranges that make using marked down produce and slightly weird offers work as meals are disappearing.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:32 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:16 pm

And it's important to remember inflation is an average. There are always outliers on either side. Cherry picking is inherently flawed as a methodology.

The ONS takes a lot of care with inflation data. They constantly check whether it's appropriate for all income deciles - and usually it is. There are times when the top income deciles will see a higher average inflation in their consumption set or vice versa - and the ONS will notice. They update the 700 items and change the weightings as necessary.

I'd pay much more attention to ONS data than a cherry picked index. Maybe value food has gone up, but children's shoes have gone down. Used cars have gone up a lot but computer games have gone down a lot. Office clothing has gone up, leisurewear has gone down. A personalised inflation index is all very well, and so is trying to do an inflation index focused on the poorest 10%, but it's got to be done properly rather than from a collection of prices from one supermarket.
The ONS is now actively meeting with Monroe to get more information on making the CPI or a related product more useful for those on a lower budget. This is because the Consumer Prices Index includes a significant number of non-basics food items, meaning that it only works for the middle deciles, and not those that are subsisting in the lowest deciles.

The CPI is based on a list of food and non-food items purchased across the income ranges, and so does not work for those in the lowest deciles, who just can't buy those things. It's based on average sales and average shopping carts.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:50 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:27 pm
If you think this, you are obviously unfamiliar with Monroe's work - what she does is all about redesigning the food shop to make optimal use of what's available at any given time, including offers, marked down produce, etc.

The point she is making is that offers on cheaper items have reduced, and that the cheap basics ranges that make using marked down produce and slightly weird offers work as meals are disappearing.
Not sure you read this right. She says she has shopped consistently at one single supermarket. Presumably she no longer spends the time she used to years ago on optimising the shop by getting the best offers from a range of shops.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:58 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:50 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:27 pm
If you think this, you are obviously unfamiliar with Monroe's work - what she does is all about redesigning the food shop to make optimal use of what's available at any given time, including offers, marked down produce, etc.

The point she is making is that offers on cheaper items have reduced, and that the cheap basics ranges that make using marked down produce and slightly weird offers work as meals are disappearing.
Not sure you read this right. She says she has shopped consistently at one single supermarket. Presumably she no longer spends the time she used to years ago on optimising the shop by getting the best offers from a range of shops.
I did read it right. You are just plain wrong in your criticisms here, and seem unfamiliar with both her work and the CPI.

One of the many things she talks about is not having time and money to get around multiple shops looking for bargains. It costs money and time to get to multiple shops in most places.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:01 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:32 pm
The ONS is now actively meeting with Monroe to get more information on making the CPI or a related product more useful for those on a lower budget. This is because the Consumer Prices Index includes a significant number of non-basics food items, meaning that it only works for the middle deciles, and not those that are subsisting in the lowest deciles.

The CPI is based on a list of food and non-food items purchased across the income ranges, and so does not work for those in the lowest deciles, who just can't buy those things. It's based on average sales and average shopping carts.
I shouldn't need to explain that you can't cherry pick your way out of an average.

She might well be right that inflation for the lowest decile is higher but there's no evidence for that yet. Some of the goods with the highest inflation currently are:

- home improvement products
- office clothing
- used cars
- hire cars
- home improvement products
- petrol
- air travel
- restaurants
- hotels
- hardback non-fiction books

Some of the items with the biggest falls in prices are:

- computer games
- coach travel
- money transfers
- leisurewear
- jigsaws
- self-raising flour
- mashed potato

It might well be the case that CPI over-states inflation for the lowest deciles, once you strike out the big price rises for atypical spend by these groups.

We don't know.

It's good news that the ONS is investigating and good on Monroe for campaigning for it, but I'm afraid I remain unconvinced by her opening argument.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:04 pm

Price information from most supermarkets can be easily gathered online. Though of course a lot of people on low incomes are in fact limited to whatever's in their nearest shop(s).

The CPI includes bonkers stuff like bedroom furniture (my mattress is on palettes) and champagne (I drink meths out of an old boot). Those supply chains don't have much in common with, say, cheap fresh produce.

Things like supply chain issues could well mean the floor of "lowest possible price" has gone up, if the cost of transporting boxes around is more expensive no matter what's in them. That would then mean the cheapest units of calories would rise above inflation.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:05 pm

The CPI food inflation average includes rump steak, avocadoes, salmon fillets, ready made pizza, and all sorts of similar things that have relatively high markups and thus prices that can be resilient to supermarket cost variability, and which also can't be bought on a tight budget. The items in the average are cherry picked to be representative of the average shopping cart.

The whole point is that food prices for the lowest decile are not represented by this particular average, and that a more cherry picked average is required to accurately describe their cost of living. Because people on tight budgets have to cherry pick their shopping cart to be able to survive.

An average of an average can only measure the average. It can not measure the wings of the distribution. But it's the lower wings of the distribution that have the most consequential effect here.
Last edited by dyqik on Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:09 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:58 pm
One of the many things she talks about is not having time and money to get around multiple shops looking for bargains. It costs money and time to get to multiple shops in most places.
She states that she shops in one of the big four (Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons).

These days most price-conscious shopping is with Aldi, Lidl, Iceland. They've soared to about 15% of the market with exactly the value propositions Monroe wants to see. You wouldn't accept someone simply comparing school uniform prices in M&S ten years ago with prices in M&S now, because school uniform spend has shifted from M&S to cheaper supermarkets. The same applies to food, with the rise of Aldi and Lidl in the past ten years.

This is definitely a case of ITYFIABMCTT.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by Gfamily » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:11 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:09 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:58 pm
One of the many things she talks about is not having time and money to get around multiple shops looking for bargains. It costs money and time to get to multiple shops in most places.
She states that she shops in one of the big four (Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons).

These days most price-conscious shopping is with Aldi, Lidl, Iceland. They've soared to about 15% of the market with exactly the value propositions Monroe wants to see. You wouldn't accept someone simply comparing school uniform prices in M&S ten years ago with prices in M&S now, because school uniform spend has shifted from M&S to cheaper supermarkets. The same applies to food, with the rise of Aldi and Lidl in the past ten years.

This is definitely a case of ITYFIABMCTT.
As she says, she doesn't have the 40 minutes to get to her nearest Aldi/Lidl
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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:15 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:05 pm
The CPI food inflation average includes rump steak, avocadoes, salmon fillets, ready made pizza, and all sorts of similar things that have relatively high markups and thus prices that can be resilient to supermarket cost variability, and which also can't be bought on a tight budget.
Exactly.

And I trust statisticians to be able to unpick these things out of the averages. Have avocados gone up in price more than bananas? Has rump steak gone up more than frozen mince? Who knows. I don't trust cherry picking out of these averages or random people on twitter sending Monroe their supermarket receipts - this has to be done properly.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by Gfamily » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:20 pm

Is this what lpmsplaining would look like?
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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:20 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:09 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:58 pm
One of the many things she talks about is not having time and money to get around multiple shops looking for bargains. It costs money and time to get to multiple shops in most places.
She states that she shops in one of the big four (Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons).

These days most price-conscious shopping is with Aldi, Lidl, Iceland. They've soared to about 15% of the market with exactly the value propositions Monroe wants to see. You wouldn't accept someone simply comparing school uniform prices in M&S ten years ago with prices in M&S now, because school uniform spend has shifted from M&S to cheaper supermarkets. The same applies to food, with the rise of Aldi and Lidl in the past ten years.

This is definitely a case of ITYFIABMCTT.
IABMCTT is the whole point here.

It may well be that the lowest budget shop is not cheaper at Aldi, Lidl, Iceland. IIRC (and it's been over a decade since I've been in any of them), then they tended not to have the same range as the big four for "basics" type ranges, and were somewhat variable with time in what was available cheaply. At the same time, it can still be true that they are cheaper for the second or third to median deciles, where a few moderate luxuries are bought (like salami, frozen prepared items or frozen dessert etc.).
Last edited by dyqik on Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:21 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:15 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:05 pm
The CPI food inflation average includes rump steak, avocadoes, salmon fillets, ready made pizza, and all sorts of similar things that have relatively high markups and thus prices that can be resilient to supermarket cost variability, and which also can't be bought on a tight budget.
Exactly.

And I trust statisticians to be able to unpick these things out of the averages. Have avocados gone up in price more than bananas? Has rump steak gone up more than frozen mince? Who knows. I don't trust cherry picking out of these averages or random people on twitter sending Monroe their supermarket receipts - this has to be done properly.
Yes, it can be unpicked, that is what Monroe is asking for. But CPI does not do that, and it's CPI that attracts the headlines, and is also used in discussions about benefits levels. The point is that there isn't a commonly used ONS product that does unpick that.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by monkey » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:22 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:15 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:05 pm
The CPI food inflation average includes rump steak, avocadoes, salmon fillets, ready made pizza, and all sorts of similar things that have relatively high markups and thus prices that can be resilient to supermarket cost variability, and which also can't be bought on a tight budget.
Exactly.

And I trust statisticians to be able to unpick these things out of the averages. Have avocados gone up in price more than bananas? Has rump steak gone up more than frozen mince? Who knows. I don't trust cherry picking out of these averages or random people on twitter sending Monroe their supermarket receipts - this has to be done properly.
What makes you think Jack Monroe isn't going to be doing it properly? All you know is that she thinks she has identified a problem from a Guardian column and a few tweets, nothing about how she's going to look at it in any detail.

(She's already talking to the ONS about it, which suggests there will be a sensible methodology).

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Re: The cost of living

Post by monkey » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:23 pm

dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:20 pm
IABMCTT is the whole point here.
This.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by IvanV » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:23 pm

I don't think it's news that standard inflation measures often understates inflation to lower income households. I've seen analysis of that repeatedly for at least 30 years. Doubtless from time to time it is the other way around, but that tends not to get reported. But I think the long-term trend is that lower income households suffer higher inflation than the official figure. Stuff that has tended to get cheaper has tended to be more optional consumptions - big tellies, air flights, etc. Though it is not all like that - clothes are a lot cheaper today than in my youth.

At the moment, price increases in food are quite large. Meat's up. Milk's up but cheese is down. Home-grown fruit and veg are up a lot, but imported isn't. Read into that what you will. Here's an article showing ONS data on food cost increases broken down into about 50 kinds (sorry about the source that quotes it) Inflation in energy is monstrous, (though something worse happened in the 70s). Cars are up quite a lot, but secondhand cars are up 30%. There is a coincidence in how the larger cost increases in the economy at the moment are disproportionately affecting lower income households.

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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:24 pm

Gfamily wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:11 pm
lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:09 pm
dyqik wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:58 pm
One of the many things she talks about is not having time and money to get around multiple shops looking for bargains. It costs money and time to get to multiple shops in most places.
She states that she shops in one of the big four (Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons).

These days most price-conscious shopping is with Aldi, Lidl, Iceland. They've soared to about 15% of the market with exactly the value propositions Monroe wants to see. You wouldn't accept someone simply comparing school uniform prices in M&S ten years ago with prices in M&S now, because school uniform spend has shifted from M&S to cheaper supermarkets. The same applies to food, with the rise of Aldi and Lidl in the past ten years.

This is definitely a case of ITYFIABMCTT.
As she says, she doesn't have the 40 minutes to get to her nearest Aldi/Lidl
She's not a universal representative of the human race, you know. One individual cannot trump how averages work.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by lpm » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:26 pm

Gfamily wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:20 pm
Is this what lpmsplaining would look like?
I'm kind of embarrassed to be on a forum where I need to explain what an average is.
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Re: The cost of living

Post by dyqik » Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:28 pm

lpm wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:26 pm
Gfamily wrote:
Wed Jan 26, 2022 4:20 pm
Is this what lpmsplaining would look like?
I'm kind of embarrassed to be on a forum where I need to explain what an average is.
I'm embarrassed for you that you think that explaining an average is relevant. This whole argument is about the fact that averages do not measure the shape of distributions.

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