The Bank of England’s top economist has said people in the UK need to accept that they are poorer otherwise prices will continue to rise.
Huw Pill told a podcast in the US that there was a “reluctance to accept that, yes, we’re all worse off”.
He said in response to higher bills and other costs rising, workers had responded by asking for wage increases and businesses were charging more.
UK inflation, the rate at which prices rise, was 10.1% in the year to March.
The rate dipped last month from 10.4% but that does not mean prices are falling. It means they are rising at a slightly slower pace.
Inflation in the UK has been higher than the Bank of England’s target of 2% for some time.
Part of the Bank’s job is to keep inflation at its target rate. In response to rising prices it has increased interest rates, which makes the cost of borrowing money more expensive.
This move, in theory, is supposed to make people reduce spending, so that demand for goods cools down and price rises slow down.
With households being hit by soaring energy bills and food costs, many workers have been asking for pay rises to help ease the pressure on budgets.
Job vacancies have been falling, but are still higher than they have been for decades, strengthening people’s hands as they ask for pay rises.
Although pay has been going up, it has not matched inflation, meaning people are worse off.
Mr Pill said people demanding pay increases and businesses putting prices up added to inflation and caused prices to rise even further across the economy.
“Somehow in the UK, someone needs to accept that they’re worse off and stop trying to maintain their real spending power by bidding up prices, whether through higher wages or passing energy costs on to customers etc,” he told the Beyond Unprecedented podcast from Columbia Law School.
“What we’re facing now is that reluctance to accept that, yes, we’re all worse off and we all have to take our share; to try and pass that cost onto one of our compatriots and saying: ‘We’ll be alright, but they will have to take our share too’.
“That pass-the-parcel game that’s going on here, that game is one that’s generating inflation, and that part of inflation can persist.”
Thomas Moore, senior investment director at Abrdn, told the BBC Mr Pill was pointing to one-off factors driving up inflation and saying “don’t blame us, look at these one-offs and actually we need you to help us to get [inflation] down to 2% because the sooner that all of you expect lower inflation in terms of your wages demands and the settlements you achieve with your employers that will help bring inflation down”.
However, Mr Moore said there had been a “massive expansion” in the money supply under the Bank of England as a result of the Covid pandemic. “The problem is monetarist economists believe that money supply is the key root of inflation, so there’s this debate raging at the moment – was it those one-off transitory factors [that caused inflation] or was it actually a cause of this underlying issue of money supply?”
Mr Pill is not the first Bank of England official to warn about wage rises contributing to inflation.
Last year, the Bank’s governor Andrew Bailey urged people not to ask for big pay rises, to try and stop prices rising out of control.
His comments were immediately met with backlash, with unions saying they were “ill-founded”. At the time, Downing Street and the Treasury distanced themselves from Mr Bailey’s comments.