Colin Brazier: Inflation bullies those who can't adapt

The cost of living is rising like a souffle inside a billionaire’s space-ship

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Did you wince the last time you filled up your car with fuel? Did your eyes goggle at your most recent gas or electricity bill?

If you did, you’re not alone. The cost of living is rising like a souffle inside a billionaire’s space-ship. This morning we learned that prices rose at their fastest rate for a decade. But although inflation affects practically everyone, it doesn’t affect everyone equally.

If you’re trying to manage a tight household budget, or working for yourself, these are big swings. Big enough, perhaps, to prompt changes in behaviour. When driving gets more expensive, some people drive less. Those who can afford to, might ponder a switch to an electric vehicle. But not everyone can exercise these choices. Not everyone can afford to.

Inflation is a bully. It picks on those who can’t change their consumption habits. Whose behaviour, to use the phrase employed by economists, is inelastic. Think of the mother who lives in an isolated rural part of Britain. She needs a gas-guzzling 4x4 to get the kids to school. She’s already paying more than £500 a year in car tax - because the government thinks that only rich urban folk drive SUVs - and now her fuel bill has risen by a fifth in a year. How can she avoid the ill-effects of inflation? The AA recently said motorists should shop around for the best prices. That’s not easily done in those parts of rural Britain where petrol stations are as rare as hen’s teeth.

The same goes for pensioners who are getting-by on a fixed income. If they live in an out-of-the way place, where there are no buses, the car is a life-line. And what about those of us who haven’t retired? Again, the effects of inflation are felt differently and not always deservedly. If you have a company car or drive for the public sector, you won’t worry as much about filling up as someone who’s self-employed; the taxi driver or white van man.

These are not small numbers. How many vans do you think there are on Britain’s roads..... the answer is nearly five million, most of them powered by diesel engines. If you’re a plumber, electrician or builder, there are only so many costs that can be passed onto customers. These people are the backbone of our economy. More than that, they are an important part of our polity.

Working for yourself, by which I don’t mean working from home, but getting out there and meeting people in their homes as tradesmen do, is something to be encouraged and celebrated. These are people whose livelihood depends on doing a good job, building a reputation, and being self-reliant. They aren’t coddled by HR departments, or the taxpayer’s largesse, and nor are they insulated from the cost of living.

Well, speaking of insulation, it was encouraging to see activists from Insulate Britain given those jail terms today.

How many of them, I wonder, fret about the cost of fuel? How many of them drive for a living? How many of them drive at all? Well, though it’s taken time, they’ve now been punished for blockading motorways and busy roads.

But consider this. When the police were being so ineffectual, who was it that was dragging activists out of the way of ambulances? It was the white van men. And who read the demonstrators the riot act, while police were busy fetching protesters hot drinks. It was stressed out mum’s doing the school run.