Inflation slows to 8.7% but food prices remain 'worryingly high'
ITV News' Joel Hills reports on the latest inflation figures
UK inflation is starting to slow, dropping below double digits for the first time in months, but food prices remain "worryingly high", the chancellor has warned.
Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation sank to 8.7% in April, according to the latest figures from Office for National Statistics (ONS), falling from 10.1% in March.
The rise in food prices has slowed marginally, down to 19.3% from March's eye-watering 19.6%, but it means households are still facing among the fastest food inflation rates in 45 years.
This compares with food inflation of 1.7% in December 2019, before the Covid pandemic struck.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who met with food industry leaders to discuss how to improve prices for consumers on Tuesday, said it was "welcome" that the headline rate of inflation had fallen but warned of "no room for complacency".
"Food price inflation is still worryingly high, that's why we've had food producers in, farmers in, supermarkets in, to talk about what we can do to reduce the pressure there."
Asked if he was concerned about supermarkets profiteering, Mr Hunt said: "We are looking at why food prices are just as high as they are and why inflation remains high."
He added: "We want to talk collaboratively with the industry to find out what is happening. Of course, if there is any wrong behaviour going on, we have an independent regulator which is looking at those issues but I also want to recognise that they too are under pressure."
Mr Hunt was referring to an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority into whether “any failure in competition” is causing consumers to face higher prices.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt responds to the latest inflation figures
Another probe, by Parliament's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee said it would examine "issues throughout the food supply chain from farm to fork", to assess how profits and risks are shared.
Yesterday, the government was warned soaring food prices are outpacing energy bill costs as the key driver of the cost of living crisis.
This is demonstrated by the ONS data which shows some food essentials are almost 50% higher than they were 12 months ago.
Biggest food price hikes
The biggest percentage changes in the average price over the 12 months to April affected:
Olive oil 46.4%
Low-fat milk 33.5%
Drink inflation rises
Mineral or spring waters 21.4%
Fruit and vegetable juices 21.1%
Energy inflation rises
The Resolution Foundation warned last week that food prices are set to overtake energy bills as the “epicentre” of the cost of living crisis, and would force low-income households to eat less as own-brand essentials are becoming unaffordable for some.
ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said: “The rate of inflation fell notably as the large energy price rises seen last year were not repeated this April, but was offset partially by increases in the cost of second-hand cars and cigarettes.
“However, prices in general remain substantially higher than they were this time last year, with annual food price inflation near historic highs.”
Last week Tesco and Aldi announced announced another round of price cuts on own-brand pasta and cooking oil as deflation started to make its way through to cupboard essentials.
It followed a number of supermarkets dropping the price of some lines of bread and butter the week before in response to falling commodity prices.
Sainsbury’s and Tesco also recently cut the price of milk by at least 5p, followed by Aldi, Lidl and Asda.
In response to the latest inflation figures, the chancellor said: “The IMF said yesterday we’ve acted decisively to tackle inflation but although it is positive that it is now in single digits, food prices are still rising too fast.
“So as well as helping families with around £3,000 of cost of living support this year and last, we must stick resolutely to the plan to get inflation down.”
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said the figures are "not great" and the negligible change in food inflation is "Pretty disappointing for all of us. And a set back for the PM’s ambition to halve inflation this year."
The Liberal Democrats said Conservative ministers are "completely out of touch with the cost of food crisis", before adding that the latest figures were not a cause for celebration.
Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said: "Inflation is soaring and food prices are still at eye-watering levels. People are worried that there is no end in sight for the cost of living crisis.
“It is shocking that the Chancellor refuses to act on food bills. These latest figures show the cost of shopping is through the roof, leaving families and pensioners to struggle on without any help.
Ms Olney added: “Conservative ministers have shown to be completely out of touch with the cost of food crisis. Enough is enough, we need action now.
“That means immediately expanding free school meals, giving farmers more support with their energy bills and cracking down on profiteering by big supermarkets and food multinationals.”
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