The swing higher in inflation will come as an unwelcome intensification of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. High household energy bills, wage growth that has lagged far behind inflation and more expensive food and other essential items have contributed to a steep decline in living standards. Earlier this month, the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent fiscal watchdog, predicted that the inflation-adjusted decline in household disposable income this year and last year would be the biggest fall in living standards in records going back to the 1950s.
Even as wholesale energy prices, the biggest driver of inflation last year, have fallen, the central bank has been cautious about declaring any victory in its battle against inflation.
The Bank of England was the first major central bank to begin raising interest rates in December 2021, amid rapidly escalating energy prices. Since then, the central bank has raised rates by nearly 4 percentage points in an effort to stop high inflation becoming embedded in the economy. Policymakers have been particularly alert to higher services prices and signs that private sector wages were climbing rapidly, which would make it difficult to return inflation to the bank’s 2 percent target.
Recently, analysts had predicted that it could be the first major central bank to halt rate increases. Inflation is expected to slow substantially this year, with the annual rate falling to 4 percent by the end of the year, the Bank of England forecast.
Last month, Andrew Bailey, the central bank governor, said there had been a “turning of the corner” on inflation, but he cautioned that it was “very early days, and the risks are very large.” Still, policymakers have changed their language on the outlook for interest rates, removing the presumption that they would raised even higher. Instead, policymakers said “if there were to be evidence of more persistent pressures, then further tightening in monetary policy would be required,” according to the minutes of the February policy meeting.