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What is inflation? Impact, causes & rate predictions for 2022

Updated 14 December 2021

5min read

Kate Morgan
Staff Writer

Inflation, and its effect on the standard of living, is becoming a major concern for households and policymakers. From rising food prices to pay packets of diminished value, a rising cost of living effects everyone.

But what exactly is inflation, what causes it and how long is the current rate of inflation going to be in place?  

what is inflation

What’s inflation and what’s causing it? 

If you’ve been keeping a close eye on the news, and your weekly shop, you might have noticed that the price of things is going up: a litre of unleaded petrol is today (2nd December 2021) 33p more expensive than a year ago, electricity and gas costs have increased by almost 25%, while even crisps and soft drinks are becoming more pricey.

So why are prices going up all of a sudden? 

The answer is something called inflation and it’s not just happening in the UK either – a whole host of countries across the world are experiencing what some people are calling an inflation ‘crisis’. 

There are a few different ways of measuring inflation, but one of the most common measures used in the UK is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which looks at the changing prices of some of our favourite products.

Very simply, inflation happens when the costs of things increase. As an example, if a £1 jar of jam goes up by 5p, the price has inflated by 5%. Inflation isn’t always a bad thing, but when prices increase too much or keep rising for too long, it can present some problems. So, what’s really going on?  

Many countries around the world are struggling with inflation, and one of the biggest reasons for this is the pandemic.

When Covid-19 struck, countries around the world were forced into lockdowns: factories shut down, workplaces closed and many businesses stopped trading altogether. During this time, most governments stepped in to provide massive investments and support to keep people out of poverty and to keep the economy alive.

In the UK, the biggest source of support was the furlough scheme through which the government started paying many workers’ wages. 

Many households built up unexpected savings as a result of having fewer opportunities to spend when working from home and the shops being closed, for example. When restrictions started to lift, these savings poured out into the economy exactly as hoped. 

The problem is that with many countries around the world still facing strict Covid-19 regulations, lacking access to or uptake of vaccines or continuing to dip in and out of lockdowns, there just aren’t enough products to go around: there are fewer businesses working with fewer staff producing fewer items.

Despite all the money going around, businesses can’t quite keep up and prices are going up as a result. 

The UK is also facing the additional problem of Brexit disruption. Since the UK has left the EU, many businesses are finding it much more difficult to get things in and out of the country.

Between both supply chain disruption and the pandemic, the UK is looking at some persistent inflation rates.  

What does inflation impact? 

Everything. As consumers all need to start paying more for day-to-day items, households will increasingly find their money is worth less. After all, if everybody has to pay more for the grocery shop, there’s less money to spend on other things.  

But inflation can have a particularly challenging effect on savers, homeowners and those already retired. If you’ve been saving for a long time, are paying off a mortgage or are drawing on a fixed pension pot, all of a sudden you can find yourself having to pay more with less.  

The last time inflation was this high, the UK was suffering from the effects of the 2008 housing price crash. Back then, inflation reached just above 5% - a figure some economists think the current bout of inflation could reach again. As inflation rose, savings accounts were no longer able to keep pace with the rising cost of living. The costs of mortgages and associated household bills increased and the value of pensions shrunk.

While the causes and effects of the 2011 inflation high were of course different, should inflation reach 5% percent once more, this could all happen again.  

One of the most common ways central banks and governments try to combat inflation is by changing interest rates – the amount of interest you will earn on your money when placed in a savings account.

If the interest rate goes up, people will save more and spend, making item shortages less acute and, in theory, bringing prices down. This will also impact things like mortgages though. Higher interest rates can mean the amount you will need to pay on a mortgage could increase. 

As with all financial questions, having sound, expert advice is paramount. If you aren’t sure, it’s better to get clear guidance rather than trying to guess what to do next. 

Inflation in 2022 

So, the big question on everyone’s lips is: how long will the current rate of inflation persist?  

There’s unfortunately no straightforward answer to this question. Countries around the world are all facing inflation, meaning that these countries need to find the right solution together, so as to not unfairly disadvantage other countries. Particularly for the UK, facing twin concerns over inflation and supply chain issues, it doesn’t look like inflation will be going away anytime soon.  

The bigger question is what both the UK government and the Bank of England will do to combat inflation and support households. It seems only a matter of time before interest rates rise.

This will be good news for savers, but potentially concerning news for homeowners who aren’t on a fixed-rate mortgage. This would bring down the rate of inflation, however, making it by far the most likely policy to be pursued by central banks around the world.  

A lot will also come down to the continued global recovery from the pandemic. Successful vaccination campaigns will get global supply chains operating back at normal levels which will also go some way to improving item shortages.  

In summary: 

  • Inflation in the UK is being driven by Covid-19- and supply chain-related issues. These shortages are driving prices higher, making the cost of living more expensive 

  • Should this rate of inflation continue, savers, homeowners, pensioners and lots of other people will be looking at some challenging times ahead 

  • Inflation is likely to continue throughout 2022, but it might be at a higher or lower rate than it is currently.  

  • The most likely way governments and central banks will try to bring inflation back down is by slowly increasing interest rates. 

In such challenging times, getting the right financial advice for your circumstances is key.

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About the author
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.