The price of groceries in the UK has risen by 5.9 per cent in the last year, exacerbating a wider cost of living crisis for households reeling from soaring energy bills — and increasing the political pressure on Boris Johnson.
Market researcher Kantar said on Tuesday morning that the rise in prices was equivalent to £271 a year for the average household, the biggest increase since December 2011.
The group said customers were turning increasingly towards discounters such as Aldi and Lidl to try to make their budgets go further. “We are seeing a clear flight to value as shoppers watch their pennies,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail at Kantar.
Johnson’s position as prime minister is already vulnerable because of the partygate scandal, which has seen him fined for attending an illegal party in Downing Street during a Covid-19 lockdown.
But the cost of living crisis poses a potentially more serious challenge to his administration in the coming months with no end in sight to the pressure on household finances.
The price cap on most consumers’ energy bills rose by 54 per cent to nearly £2,000 in April and is expected to rise again in the autumn because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed wholesale gas prices even higher.
Although Rishi Sunak, chancellor, has announced a £9bn package to help households with this month’s price rise, a large part of this involves loans rather than grants. Sunak has indicated that he may need to give further help in the summer, depending on market movements in the coming weeks.
Johnson will on Tuesday convene a cabinet meeting in which ministers will be told to come up with “innovative ways to ease pressure on household finances”, without running up new costs to the Treasury.
Among the measures will be a commitment to crack down on “unacceptable behaviour” by companies that are considered to be unfairly pushing up bills for households. “Private companies must play their part,” Number 10 said.
Meanwhile, Lisa Nandy, shadow levelling-up secretary, has told Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at a meeting of the shadow cabinet that he should shift his political attacks more towards the cost of living and away from partygate.
One party aide said: “That seems a bit unfair given that we’ve been banging on about rising prices for months on end.”
Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, said: “It is possible for people to hold two thoughts in their head; the cost of living and anger about a lawbreaking prime minister.”
Overall inflation in Britain hit 7 per cent in March, a 30-year high, and is expected to reach 9 per cent later this year.
Kantar said that grocery sales had fallen by 5.9 per cent by value in the 12 weeks to April 17 as people tightened their belts to deal with rising prices.
Aldi had increased sales by 4.2 per cent year-on-year, with rival Lidl up 4 per cent.
With shoppers turning towards discount chains, purchases fell at some of the main supermarket chain. Sales at Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons were down 7.7 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 10.5 per cent respectively.