July 30, 2019

Who has been hurt most by increases in living costs?

New data from Statistics New Zealand indicate that, during the past 10 years, superannuitants and beneficiaries have faced the largest increases in their living costs. By contrast, people in the highest income quintile have faced the lowest increases.

The Household Living Prices Index (HLPI) is slightly different from the more familiar Consumer Prices Index (CPI). The CPI measures the price changes experienced on average by all households, whereas the HLPI distinguishes between the price changes experienced by different demographic groups.

Living prices for superannuitants increased by 21.9 percent between the second quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2019, while prices for Beneficiaries increased by 21.2 percent. 

At the other end of the scale, prices faced by people in the highest income quintile increased by 14.8 percent.

During the past five years, Beneficiary households have experienced an increase of 8.2 percent, while Māori households have experienced an increase of 7.1 percent.

It is arguable, however, that it is consumption patterns, rather than demographic characteristics themselves, that have influenced living prices most. Households where there are smokers are likely to have been particularly hard hit because of their tobacco habit. In March 2009, the average price of a packet of 25 cigarettes was $13.43. By March 2019, the price had increased (mainly because of a series of increases in tobacco excise duty) to $37.48. This represents an increase of 179 percent.

On the other hand, consumers of alcohol have fared a lot better. Beer drinkers experienced a 23 percent increase in the price of their tipple during the same period, while wine drinkers experienced a decrease of 3 percent.