BusinessCompany NewsLies, damn lies and statistics…

Lies, damn lies and statistics...

The government is gearing up to change the way it calculates inflation to the European method. They don't have to do so until November, but if they were doing it this month, the gap between UK methods of calculation and European ones would be 1.7%.

And if you think the European method shows inflation fell from 1.2% to 1.1% from May to June – that’s a big gap. It would also be a dent in the idea that the inflation rate is a precise measurement, reliable and the same in all ages. That is, the impossibility of comparing inflation historically, because of the difference in the basket of goods it is measured by, which changes regularly from generation to generation.

In the 1940s, it included the current price of wireless sets, bicycles and custard powder. In the 1950s, rabbits and candles were dropped in favour of brown bread and washing machines. The 1970s added yoghurt and duvets, the 1980s added oven-ready meals and videotapes, and the 1990s microwave ovens and camcorders.

It’s a fascinating measure of our changing society, but it isn’t an objective way of measuring rising prices over time.

  • David Boyle is an associate of the New Economics Foundation and author of The Tyranny of Numbers

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