SATURDAY ESSAY: So why is everything becoming so expensive?

File photo dated 12/11/08 of a woman shopping for food as homes situated within easy reach of a nati

Food prices are rising sharply - along with the cost of just about everything else - Credit: PA

Reporter Chris Bishop looks at the current cost of living crisis - and why we can track the roots of it much further back than you might imagine.


When I snuck in the back bar of a smoky pub with my schoolmates, circa 1980, a pint cost 35p.

They'd only serve you halves if you were still a smidgen under-age in those halcyon days, long before the demise of the pound note, but you could cheat and buy two at a time if you said one was for your mate.

Now pubs are warning they might have to start charging £7 a pint to make a profit, the way things are going.

If you'd tried telling me that one when I was standing in the back bar with a half in each hand, I'd have said you were half cut.

More than four decades later, is it me or is it all going pear-shaped?

Viv Edwards a volunteer at Cromer Food Bank. Picture: Staff

Record numbers are already turning to food banks as the cost of living spirals - Credit: Archant

Inflation is at its highest level for 30 years. The price of everything's going through the roof.

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Record numbers are using food banks. Families are already facing a heat or eat dilemma - before fuel bills shoot skywards in April.

As Covid begins to look more and more like a busted flush, the cost of living crisis looks set to become the next pandemic.

But you can't take a jab to stop your bills going up. And wearing a mask to the supermarket won't keep the cost of your shop down either.

So what's gone wrong..? In the short-term, the crisis stems from a combination of issues which all add up to a perfect storm for your bank balance.

There are so-called supply chain issues in an economy recovering (sic) from lockdown - as in not enough lorry drivers to move stuff around as demand for stuff increases.

There weren't enough people to pick food at farms last year, as foreign workers who pack fruit and veg went home after Brexit.

Fuel falls below £1 a litre at Morrisons, in Fakenham. Picture: Chris Bishop

Fuel cost less than £1 a litre in 2016 - Credit: Chris Bshop

And if you've filled your car up lately, you might just have noticed fuel prices are busting through the £1.50 a litre barrier for both petrol and diesel. Not so long ago, it was less than a quid a litre.

Pain at the pumps is caused by jitters over the ongoing crisis as Russian forces mass on the border with Ukraine.

But there's a much deeper problem which goes back much, much further than the new Cold War.

You need to look back to when I sipped my first pints in halves in the back bar of a back-street boozer to explain how things have ended up like they have.

It came not long after the so-called Winter of Discontent, which brought strikes and power cuts.

We cursed the miners for turning out the lights, as we did our homework by candles.

File photo dated 04/09/84 of striking miners clashing with police on the picket line at the Tilmanst

Striking miners clash with police at a protest against pit closures in 1984 - Credit: PA

Then they saw their mines closed in favour of cheaper foreign coal, before other heavy industries like shipbuilding and steel making went into decline. 

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, we led the world into an Industrial Revolution based around manufacturing.

As the end of the 20th Century neared, we were in the throes of a de-industrial revolution, when we stopped making things and let others make them for us because they could do it cheaper in countries where people would work for less.

Next time you get dressed, take a look at the labels if you don't believe me. They probably say India or Bangladesh, Pakistan or Turkey.

They even make most Doc Marten's on South Korea these days - not Northamptonshire. You can still by a range of Made in England daisy roots if you're prepared to pay a premium price.

The clicking section of the Van Dal factory in September 1964. Production was planned so that all op

Shoe making was once a major industry in Norwich - Credit: Archant

Rewind back just over a century and they used to make boots in Norwich. When the First World War began Howlett and White on Colegate placed itself at the disposal of the War Office and began making army boots. It went on to make 450,000 pairs.

Boot and shoe making had become one of the city's most important industries by the 1930s,  employing some 10,000 people.

By the 1980s Howlett and White - renamed Norvic - was no more. Children's shoe maker Start-Rite's factory in the city lasted until 2003, when manufacturing was outsourced to India.

This process of outsourcing the manufacturing of essential, everyday goods might have helped keep prices down for generations. 

But it leaves you in a bit of pickle when the cost of moving things half way around the world starts going up.

A smaller version of this operates with the food you buy in the supermarket. Carrots grown in the Fens get driven to a processor, from were they're taken to a central warehouse, from where they're delivered by yet another lorry to a supermarket not far from where they're grown on the first place.

A post-Brexit labour shortage threatens the supply of British food to supermarket shelves, East Angl

Rising food prices are driving inflation to record levels, with staples like margarine and tomatoes soaring by 45pc - Credit: Julien Behal/PA Wire

So what happens when the price of diesel goes up..?

You might not notice incremental increases in the cost of things like a pint of milk (or beer...) amid your weekly shop or getting a round in on a Saturday night.

But one you won't fail to miss in April is the the 50pc increase in your energy bill. Remind me what that one's all about again..?

Rising wholesale prices, less gas on the world market. That's right, world market. The production of North Sea gas, which is pumped ashore at Bacton, is in decline as fossil fuel firms move their operations to more profitable parts of the world and begin the shift towards renewables.

A Southern Electric gas bill and a gas stove burner as the Government has unveiled a package of refo

Consumers face a price hike of more than £650 on their fuel bills from April - Credit: PA

Something like 40pc of Europe's gas comes from Russia, via a pipeline through Ukraine. Uh Oh...

And while we're on the subject of things going up, there's also the 1.5pc increase in National Insurance due in April. And rising interest rates mean mortgage payments for those on variable deals will also become more expensive.

And then there's a pandemic to pay for sooner or later.

It's easy to be smart with hindsight, but we need a much more coherent, longer-term approach than threatening Vladimir Putin with sanctions and telling energy firms to take their foot off the gas and build more wind turbines. 

We need an honest debate about how we're going to fix what could well - unless Russia invades Ukraine - become the biggest crisis we'll face in a generation.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Picture Tass/PA Images

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Picture Tass/PA Images - Credit: Tass/PA Images

More to the point, who's going to pay for things like solar panels, ground source heat pumps and more energy efficient homes so our fuel bills aren't dependant on the ups and downs of fossil fuels.

Maybe BP and Shell, which trousered £40bn in profits between them last year, could chuck some of it back in the kitty.

But what about the price of things like food and clothes? Norfolk's burgeoning farm shops could help break the increasingly-costly supply chain if only more of us used them.  

Perhaps it's time the supermarkets took a long look at their business model to see if things could be sold closer to where they are produced without travelling half way around the country by lorry.

Clothes are a harder one to fathom. Like just about everything else, we've de-industrialised and outsourced to keep the boardroom bean counters happy.

But now we're paying the price.