Prices have risen 50-fold since first survey in 1914

IT'S official: prices at the Royal Opera House have gone up. So has the cost of dinner and a double room at the Savoy. But eggs and bacon are cheaper, a cup of tea is down in price and cars are an absolute snip. Even prime ministers look good value for money.

The Central Statistical Office today celebrates 80 years of cost-of-living surveys by comparing current prices with those of 1914, when official price monitoring started. Since then, prices have gone up 50-fold - the 1914 pound is now worth two pence.

In 1914, when Shaw's Pygmalion opened in the West End and Blackburn Rovers last won the Football League championship, a pint of beer cost twopence-halfpenny (one new penny), a four-cylinder car cost pounds 730 and dinner at the Savoy was seven shillings and sixpence (37 1/2 pence). The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, was paid a salary of pounds 5,000.

In 1994, a pint of beer, according to the CSO, costs pounds 1.38 - the price has nearly tripled in real terms - but a 1.4 litre car, instead of costing about pounds 36,500, is a mere pounds 6,995 - a tribute to improvements in technology and cheap mass- market manufacturing. Dinner at the Savoy, pounds 31 today, has almost doubled in price.

If prime ministerial pay had kept pace with inflation, John Major would earn pounds 250,000, instead of the pounds 78,292 he receives. MPs, however, look a bad bargain. Their salary in 1914 was pounds 400. Inflation would have brought it to pounds 20,000 - but they receive pounds 31,687.

A front-row stall seat at the Royal Opera House, meanwhile, is twice the 'real' price of 80 years ago: pounds 102 for a recent performance of Rigoletto against pounds 1 1s ( pounds 1.05) for a 1914 version of Die Meistersinger.

Eighty years ago, according to Andrew Machin, the statistician responsible for the retail price index, you could buy a large loaf, a pint of milk, a pound of sirloin beef, a quarter of a pound of tea, six eggs and a pound of sugar and still have enough change from half a crown (12 1/2 new pence) for the penny tram ride home.

Earning that half-crown, however, would have taken you half a day if you were a bricklayer. Today's labourers achieve the same purchasing power in less than an hour.

The contents of price surveys reflect the vast 20th-cen tury increase in disposable income, the advent of consumerism and the pace of technological change. The 1914 cost-of- living index was aimed at the basic welfare needs of the working classes: 60 per cent was devoted to food, 16 per cent to rent and rates and 12 per cent to clothing. Alcohol was not thought worth measuring.

In 1994, the food content is down to 14 per cent - reflecting changes in household spending tracked by the family expenditure survey - but alcohol has arrived (7 per cent). So, too, have motoring (14 per cent), leisure goods and services (12 per cent) and household goods and services (12 per cent). In the 1914 version these were crammed into the 4 per cent of the index dealing with 'other items'.

By 1947 the survey was losing credibility and was replaced by an index measuring prices rather than the cost of living. 'People had more to spend on things that were not basic,' Mr Machin said. Many people, he added, now viewed dishwashers and washing machines as basic needs.

Perpetual flow of inflationary tide

PRICES have risen by an average of 5 per cent a year since 1914, according to the Central Statistical Office. Between the wars prices doubled, but since 1945 they have increased more than 20-fold. Inflation over the last 20 years has averaged 9 per cent. The record yearly rise was nearly 27 per cent in 1975. The last year in which prices fell (by 0.8 per cent) was 1960. Inflation is currently 2.3 per cent.

(Graphic omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links