Why every minister should know the price of bread

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a classic journalist’s trap. David Cameron was challenged on LBC Radio. “How much does a value loaf cost?” His guess was “way north of a pound.” “Caught you”, the presenter almost said. A value loaf, in London at least, costs 47p.

Now, I simply did not believe this. To my certain knowledge – until this afternoon – an 800g white loaf costs a full £1. Of course, I was wrong.

I live in a classic rural market town of around 10,000 people, three supermarkets, four convenience stores, a great market, local butchers and bakers, and much more. Ludlow has streets that are amongst the 10% richest in the country. But walk just half a mile from the historic centre and you will find housing areas that are amongst the 10% most socially deprived areas in Britain.

We are a town famous for its food and we have some of the best bakers in Britain. But for so many of our residents, the price of bread really matters.

Two centuries ago, the price of bread led to riots. Of course, these riots, Captain Swing and so many other disturbances were not just about the price of bread. Labourers were furious at mechanisation, the lack of work, low wages and the greed of landowners. But when you can’t feed your children because your wages fail to buy a loaf of bread, what else do you do but riot?

We no longer riot over the price of a loaf. Most of us don’t now the price of value loaf. Including me.

So, if you are broke and living in Ludlow here is the lowdown on an 800g value sliced bread loaf. Spa has a white farmhouse knocked down to 79p from £1. One Stop and Tesco have a good range in at £1. Tuffins is doing 50/50 on discount at £1. Aldi has a good range including Hovis for an amazing 55p. But Co-op beats them all at 53p for a value white.

Sorry, I can’t give you a taste test on the Co-op loaf because it had sold out.

So, in Ludlow you need to pay 6p more a loaf than in London. Many people will think than 6p matters little. Sixpence matters. It’s a saving of £1.80 a month. Make that saving across a few items in your food budget and you have money for a few essentials you can’t afford. Perhaps a bulk buy of cans of beans. Or even a luxury like taking the kids to the flicks. And it might just keep you from having to drop in to the Rockspring food bank.

In politics far too much reliance is placed on the Consumer Price Index and related measures. These indexes only tell the story of people who have enough money. They measure the costs to people who can afford to buy new shoes, hop on a plane, put fuel in their car, even mortgage a house. They are indexes of comfort, not the cruel reality of poverty. For people where the price of bread matters, the only thing that matters is the price of bread.

That’s why every minister should know the price of bread. And the price they should know is that in Lidl or Aldi not Waitrose or Marks and Spencer.

And its 53p here in Ludlow, Shropshire. In the Co-op.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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17 Comments

  • Liberal Neil 2nd Oct '13 - 7:36pm

    Aldi’s Best of Both is very good and it’s usually 75p a loaf. Most basics are very good value in Aldi in fact, and it’s a much easier shop because they don’t have 27 different types of each product.

  • All things considered I really don’t mind if senior politicians trip over questions such as:

    The price of bread?
    The current single oap?
    The present position of Crewe Alex FC?
    The names of the Spice Girls?
    The names of the teletubbies?

    All of which I have heard posed as questions.

  • Richard Dean 2nd Oct '13 - 8:06pm

    No-one can win, can they? If there’s only one variety then we complain there’s not enough choice, but if there’s several was complain that it makes shopping too hard!:-) or 🙁 ?

    As well as the price of a healthy diet, should they also know the distribution of income in the area where the price is measured? How does Ludlow compare?

  • “The names of the teletubbies?”

    George, Danny, David and Eric? 😉

  • I don’t think every minister should know the price of the cheapest loaf of bread in their constituency it is good enough that they know how much they pay for a loaf of bread. I think last week I paid £1.35 and yesterday it was on offer for £1. However I think it is much more important that ministers know how much of what they buy they would not have if they only had £70.71 a week minus their gas, electricity, water, telephone and internet charges. Hopefully if they knew this then they would want to increase it and this would help those on benefits including those in work.

  • Does anybody remember Jim Callaghan’s big subsidy battle against the three bob loaf? (Historical references available on enquiry)

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Oct '13 - 8:39am

    “However I think it is much more important that ministers know how much of what they buy they would not have if they only had £70.71 a week minus their gas, electricity, water, telephone and internet charges. Hopefully if they knew this then they would want to increase it”

    Or better still, rather than ministers wanting to increase benefits more effort would and should go into cutting costs

  • But this analysis however brief and superficial, just shows the superficiality of the interviewer, not the interviewee. Of course, none of us know (unless it is our job to know and we are paid to do it) how much every loaf of bread costs! Personally, I think Cameron’s answer – superficial, to a superficial question – was quite acceptable (I’m no lover of Cameron, as people will know). My experience with “value” ranges, is that they vary greatly in their taste etc, but they are often more full of additives than others. So, the idea that we should all be absolutely familiar with their prices seems crazy – on the doorstep, because I do a lot of “shopping around”, I can have what I hope to be a pretty intelligent conversation with the range of voters, on a range of incomes, and I buy food from all supermarkets at times, and have a good knowledge of local small shops, where I try to do the majority. Because of the range of offers, promos etc, and the short length of time that many of them are around, how can anyone know what is cheapest at any one time? I suppose you could access every website every week – I would hope the Prime Minister would have rather better things to do with his time! No, this is the worst of journalism, both in the simplistic nature of the question, and the rather pathetic overreaction in stating “Cameron got the wrong answer”.

  • Andy Boddington 3rd Oct '13 - 9:05am

    Ed

    I only have a vague recollection of bread rices in the Callaghan era. Could you remind us?

  • It hardly matters whether ministers know the price of essentials.

    The issue is that many people can barely afford those essentials, and those government’s policies are making it harder for those people.

  • Dave G Fawcett 3rd Oct '13 - 11:13am

    You lucky people! As someone living with Coeliac disease (gluten intolerance) a loaf of bread costs me between £2.40 (Tesco’s Free from range) and £3.00 (Genius). Now that is ripping the public off and we Coeliac sufferers have no choice. we simply cannot eat wheat based food.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Oct '13 - 1:59pm

    Perhaps the government’s attitude is summed up by “Let them eat cake”.

  • Jayne Richardson 3rd Oct '13 - 3:10pm

    “In politics far too much reliance is placed on the Consumer Price Index and related measures. These indexes only tell the story of people who have enough money. They measure the costs to people who can afford to buy new shoes, hop on a plane, put fuel in their car, even mortgage a house.”

    Couldn’t agree more, I think we need some sort of measurement of the cost of essential items that are needed for basic subsistence and that should be used as a measurement of inflation and to help calculate levels of subsistence benefits. I saw inflation figures recently that were around 2.6%, if I’ve remembered correctly, which bears absolutely no relation to the food prices I’ve seen in the shops, which I would say make food inflation around 30 to 40%

  • Crewegwyn, whilst I’m sure nobody gives a flying hoot if ministers know which team is where in what sport, or the details of early morning childrens’ tv, the basic cost of meagre living is essential to be on top of – at least a ballpark. To be as far out as Cameron (who then went on to plug flour that costs nearly £3/kg) is quite painful.

    Ministers set tax policy, benefits policy, public sector pay policy – all of which involve a basic understanding ‘can people live like this?’. I don’t want him to know to the nearest penny, but I want the government to be in the ballpark when knowing what life is like for those of us on far less than 60k, and with very little left over at the end of the month.

  • The Rossi index strips out some elements that are not relevant to calculating benefit uprating. You can find more about it here: http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/5301. My recollection is that in the long run it moves very much in line with RPI. There are times, for example, when food prices rise, but in general they have fallen over the last 30 years, relative to other things.

  • Tim, that’s very interesting, but it is pointless to talk about the % rate of increase of benefits, when the benefits are already far too low and do not meet the cost of living – by a long way!

    We must reset the rate to a level on which a minimum, decent standard of living is possible, and then worry about how many pence it will go up by.

  • David White 4th Oct '13 - 2:21pm

    Reluctant as I am to defend the awful ‘Call Me Dave’, I do feel that it’s ridiculous to expect him (or any MP) to know the price of Aldi’s cheapest sliced loaf.

    What we should expect all our MPs to know is the increasing cost of living vice falling real wages for the majority of British people. It saddens me to say that neither Mr Cameron, nor Mr Clegg, nor Mr Miliband, nor Mr Farage have any concept of that.

    There’s an old song, which I performed, occasionally, about 50 years ago: ‘We live in two different worlds, dear. Our worlds are so far apart…’

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