What This Year's Inflation Basket Tells Us About the Passions of British People

Every year the Office of National Statistics tracks what British consumers care about and puts all those products in the "inflation basket". This is both what was added and removed from the basket this year.

by Amelia Dimoldenberg
15 March 2016, 1:41pm

(Photo by Jake Lewis)

The inflation basket is a pretty accurate insight into what's relevant to the British consumer. It is a basket containing all shopping baskets, and everything contained within those baskets. It knows what's on Big Shop lists scribbled on the back of old envelopes the UK over; it knows when the general population started really caring about e-cigs; it knows that people stopped getting photos developed the same year Justin Lee Collins stopped appearing on TV. It knows you better than you know yourself.

Compiled using data collected by the Office of National Statistics, items are added and removed to the inflation basket each year, depending on that year's consumer spending patterns. The ONS then tracks the prices of all the items in the basket to help them work out inflation. So, for instance, in 2012 "outdoor adventure boots" were replaced by "walking/hiking boots" to "better represent the sector as footwear fashions change". And then they monitored whether or not walking boots got more expensive.

So what got the chop this year? Which of the many thousands of goods or services that we spend on our money on is no longer worth tracking?

As if the UK's nightclub industry needed another kick in the ribs as it continues to crumble in the face of restrictive councils and well-heeled neighbours filing noise complaints from their newly-built luxury flats, "nightclub entry fees" has been struck off. Numerous venue closures and a decline in people going to clubs has led to club entry fees no longer being a legitimate measure of inflation in the hospitality sector – after all, it seems pointless to track something fewer and fewer people are spending money on.

Also removed from the basket this year are pub snacks – but mostly because they've become "difficult to price", considering a "snack" is kind of tricky to define – as well as CD Roms and re-writable DVDs. The latter two for obvious reasons.

So it appears, using the ONS stats as a guide, that the UK has lost interest in going to nightclubs, defunct audio technology and sharing films in the most long-winded way imaginable.

But what new stuff do we care about? Which basic household items will Russell Howard and Vicky Pattison be paid to fondly remember 20 years from now on Channel 5's Christmas talking-head show, The Inanimate Objects We Loved Most in 2016?

Coffee pods, apparently. Those little plastic things that go in a Nespresso – or a similarly branded machine – and leave you with a hot cup of coffee. Those, and microwaveable rice pouches. And large chocolate bars. All of which supposedly reflects a long-term trend of consumers increasingly buying more prepared foods, i.e. conclusive proof that people really don't want to cook for themselves after work, regardless of how quickly Jamie Oliver says you can make a paella.

Although you may not have personally been eating fewer pub snacks or eating more jumbo Galaxy bars than usual, the Office of National Statistics put a lot of work into making sure the basket is up to date. Over the course of each year the ONS collects 180,000 separate price quotations every month for their records, covering around 700 consumer goods and services. These prices are collected in around 140 locations across the UK and also from the internet and over the phone.

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