The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) thinks prices will peak at 8.7% in Q4 this year, a 40-year high, before retreating around the middle of 2023.
Higher inflation is expected to squeeze incomes and sap growth. Real incomes are projected to fall some 2.2% in 2022/23, according to the OBR – the biggest single-year fall in living standards since 1956. Gross domestic product (GDP) is meanwhile set to rise 3.8% over the coming year; that’s by no means glacial, but a far cry from the 6% forecast last October.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The OBR expects business investment to grow rapidly – at a healthy 10% clip this year. The unemployment rate is forecast to dip to 3.9% in Q1 2022, a whole percentage point lower than had been expected in October and a return to pre-pandemic lows.
The plus point for businesses – especially those in the retail and hospitality sectors – is that the increased NICs threshold might help them lure back a few workers who have left, or at the very least delay the departure of some
Still, uncertainty clouds the outlook. The impact of the invasion of Ukraine – especially at the fuel pump – hasn’t been fully factored into the forecast. Labour markets remain tight, which could put more upward pressure on prices. Any steeping of inflation, and therefore interest rates, could pose a threat to public finances and business sentiment.
It was against that backdrop that the Chancellor’s Spring Statement was set, and it included some welcome measures for businesses.