Inflation winners and losers

It's sort of good news if you're a pensioner. You may have lost the automatic link to the higher inflation rate, usually retail price index, but the consumer price index for September should deliver you a 5.2% increase in benefits next year.

Not such great news for pensioners is that earnings from fixed pensions and from savings accounts, on which many also rely, are falling in real terms.

And the average pensioner household is finding the inflation rate for the kind of things they buy is higher than for other groups in the community.

Alliance Trust, based in Dundee, puts out its own monthly reckoning on the way inflation affects different age groups. While its average increase is higher than that of the Office of National Statistics, it shows older people suffering most because they spend a proportionately higher share of their income on fuel.

It's reckoned that older households spend 9% of their funds on energy, while those under 30 spend less than half that share.

And the cost of that has gone up nearly 20% in a year, and that's with oil prices pegged back by weakened demand. So it could have been worse.

The outcome of the Alliance Trust figures suggests a 6.1% increase in prices for those aged 65 and over, while those aged under 30 still saw inflation above 5%.

Big debts

So mixed news for pensioners. Mixed news also for the Chancellor, George Osborne. He has to meet the bill for the higher pensions and benefits that get pegged to the September figure.

But he's also trying to pay off big debts, and inflation is a useful way of reducing the value of debts. Likewise for those households who are burdened by debt. Reducing its value is a good thing, so long as income is rising.

But then, income isn't rising anything like as fast as prices. Average wage inflation is below 2%. So for those facing average price inflation and gaining average wage inflation, the gap between the two means they're losing more than 3% in their spending power - this year alone.

How long they put up with that loss is one of the big questions about inflation and about the economy. While wages are held back by the weak labour market, that avoids a spiral in wages and costs, such as we saw in the 1970s. But workers probably have a limited appetite for seeing their earnings eroded.

But there is some evidence that businesses have been pushing up costs more than they needed to, using the higher price of energy and raw materials as cover.

Inflation rate on rates

Yet for businesses too, there's mixed news in the inflation figures. September inflation (the higher, RPI rate) has been used as the rate at which business rates are increased for the following financial year, north and south of the border.

The increased take from business rates is already known to Scottish businesses, with the Scottish government claiming much of that is explained by inflation.

Well, more of it can be explained by inflation than had been expected, for next year at least.

But already, the lobbying is under way for government on both sides of the border to give business a break from that September baseline.

Britain's retailers, for starters, are already claiming a £350m extra bill as a result of inflation, at a time when they're suffering badly.