Bank poised to increase interest rates as inflation remains unchanged at 8.7%

The UK’s annual inflation rate unexpectedly remained unchanged in May at 8.7%, adding to the pressure on the Bank of England to increase the cost of borrowing.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed annual inflation as measured by the consumer prices index held steady from the same level in April, reversing two months of gains as the soaring cost of living added to pressure on households. City economists had forecast a figure of 8.4%.

In a shock report underscoring the challenge facing the central bank to curb the highest rates of inflation in decades, stabilising energy prices were offset by a sharp rise in the cost of air fares and package holidays as consumers rushed to book overseas summer travel.

Rising prices for second-hand cars, live music events and video games also contributed to inflation remaining high.

Core inflation – a measure that excludes volatile food, energy, alcohol and tobacco prices, and which is closely watched by the Bank of England – rose from 6.8% in April to 7.1% in May, the highest level since 1992.

Financial markets are braced for Threadneedle Street to raise its key base rate on Thursday from 4.5% in response to stubbornly high inflation, as the UK grapples with the highest levels in the G7 group of wealthy countries.

The government is under growing pressure to intervene to help millions of households facing a “ticking timebomb” of higher mortgage payments ahead of the next election.

The latest inflation reading is likely to embarrass Rishi Sunak’s promise to halve inflation to about 5% before the end of this year, amid growing concerns over the persistence of the cost of living crisis as prices continue to rise at a rate that is among the fastest in three decades.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said he recognised high inflation hurted families and businesses across the country. “Our plan to halve the rate this year is the best way we can keep costs and interest rates down,” he said.

“We will not hesitate in our resolve to support the Bank of England as it seeks to squeeze inflation out of our economy, while also providing targeted support with the cost of living.”

The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said the government was failing to tackle inflation despite Sunak’s promise to halve inflation. “This Tory government can’t get a grip of this problem because they are the problem – 13 years of the Tories and their disastrous mini-budget are damaging our economic security and leaving families worse off,” she said.

According to the latest snapshot from the ONS, falling petrol and diesel prices for motorists led to the largest downward contribution to inflation, while pressure from food and drink prices eased after increasing by less in May than the same month a year earlier.

Prices remain high and are still rising fast, adding to pressure on struggling households. Although food and drink inflation slowed from 19% in April, it only dropped to 18.3%, still among the fastest rates in decades.


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