Exercise bikes pedal into the RPI

PRICES OF food processors and exercise bikes have been newly included in the latest inflation figures, as government statisticians struggle to ensure official data reflect changing fashion trends, writes Lea Paterson.

The Office for National Statistics has also deemed dried catfood, television and computer repairs, and electric keyboards popular enough for inclusion in the Retail Prices Index, the official measure of inflation.

Among the casualties are traditional children's knee-length coats, which have been replaced in the index by shorter children's jackets after falling out of favour with modern parents. Car brake pads and washing machine repairs also number among the new inclusions.

The exclusions include packet soup and malt vinegar, both of which have been dropped as part of the annual RPI update. Surveys show that these account for such a small proportion of expenditure that changes in their price have virtually no impact on real income.

Despite the statisticians' best efforts, RPI changes are often slow to pick up on new consumer behaviour. Personal computers were only included last year, while Doc Martens and mobile phones were in every high street long before they turned up in official price measures. Women's cardigans have been reinstated to the index after several years' absence, even though their foray into the fashion spotlight is now well and truly over.

Officials at the Office for National Statistics stress that RPI changes are based on careful study of expenditure surveys, not individual tastes. These reassurances aside, few were surprised yesterday to learn that anoraks have, for many years, been a key RPI constituent.