Author: Patrick Hogan, CAS Policy Officer
I wonder if we can, for a moment, cast our minds back to the year 1973.
Why 1973? Well, on New Year’s Day that year, the UK officially joined the European Economic Community, or what later came to be known as the European Union. Not even the sagest of seers then could surely have known that 43 years later the UK and EU would be in the midst of divorce proceedings, with such uncertain outcomes for both parties.
But back to 1973. What else was going on then? Well, it was clearly a year for the culture vultures: the Sydney Opera House officially opened; The Godfather won Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Donny Osmond was the top of the pop charts.
Looking back on it now, it won’t surprise you to know that the cost of living in 1973 was also seemingly ludicrously cheap. A pint cost just 14p while a tank of petrol (to get you to that Donny Osmond concert) came in at 8p a litre. As if that weren’t enough, the average price for a detached house was a mere £16,980 (for the whole house!) while a troy ounce of gold would set you back just £34, compared to over £1,000 these days.
Of course, we also collectively earned much less back then, so perhaps it’s all swings and roundabouts when it really comes down to it. However, as consumers, I think we all have an awareness that with the passage of time comes inevitable price rises for the goods and services we rely on. When I first moved to Edinburgh in 2008, for example, a single bus fare was just £1.10. Now it stands at £1.60, a fact that galls me every time I’m left standing at a bus stop rummaging around my bag for the right combination of coins.
The good news is that there are tools available to help us navigate today’s consumer landscape and help us find the best deals. Comparison websites for things like energy, mobiles and insurance are very important in this regard, as are the support and advice given by consumer organisations like CAS and citizens advice bureaux across Scotland.
However, despite this help, there will always be those who, for one reason or another, don’t take advantage of the best deals on offer. Maybe they don’t have an internet connection which they can use to access a comparison website. Maybe they’ve heard horror stories of their friends or family getting double-billed at exactly the wrong time when switching utility providers. Or maybe they’re knowingly forgoing better deals because they’re simply happy with their current set-up.
Of particular concern for CAS are those consumers who are perhaps unnecessarily or unknowingly paying more for things like energy, telecommunications, loans or credit. These are consumers who tend to be on a low income and who find themselves paying higher prices for these and other services simply due to their weaker position in consumer markets. This is known as the poverty premium and was the subject of our recent research. It is important that businesses, consumer bodies, government and other key stakeholders work together to find ways to alleviate, if not eliminate altogether, the poverty premium and ensure that everyone is able to exercise their full power as active consumers.
We’d be interested in hearing about your experiences of rising prices for goods and services and the impact it has had on your life. Get in touch with us through our Facebook or Twitter pages and tell us your stories.