Has self-imposed austerity begun? Watch out, Mr Osborne...


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Are UK consumers running out of puff? The latest retail statistics suggest they may be.

Sales volumes in June fell by 0.2 per cent compared to the previous month, according to the Office for National Statistics. This confounded the consensus among economists, who had predicted a post-election spending splurge once the uncertainty was out of the way.

Their optimism was understandable. Prices in the shops in June were on average about 3 per cent lower than the previous year. But incomes have been rising and levels of employment remain high.

Economists drew some comfort from the fact that sales volumes were still strongly ahead of the same period last year. And this may yet prove to be just a one-off.

However, what if this instead represents the first sign that Britons are adopting household austerity to match the public-sector austerity that Chancellor George Osborne has been banging on about?

That would be richly ironic. Consumers have done much to bail the Chancellor out over the past few years, keeping the economy ticking over when other bits of it were in rough shape. Yet in his last budget he rewarded millions of them by taking tax credits out of their pockets, a shabby way to treat a group that has done so much to bolster his claims to economic competence.

If his policy results in a further bout of household belt-tightening that negatively affects other economic indicators, it would be no more than he deserves.