ECONOMISTS have warned that the UK faces a “very real risk” of recession due to higher interest rates - despite inflation slowing to its lowest level in 17 months.

On Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said Consumer Prices Index inflation was 6.8% in July, down from 7.9% in June.

It is the lowest rate since February 2022 and is understood to be due to a fall in energy prices.

Nevertheless, it still represents a sharp increase in the cost of living for Britons over the past year and is significantly above the UK Government’s 2% inflation target.

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Economists said that, despite the slowdown, there is still significant pressure on the Bank of England to continue with recent interest rate hikes to drag inflation firmly lower.

Rates are expected to increase from the current rate of 5.25%, which is already a 15-year-high, to 5.5% next month. Financial markets have forecast it could peak around 6% by the start of next year.

The IPPR think tank raised concerns after the latest inflation data that further hikes could force the economy to contract.

The National: File photo dated 18/11/22 of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. The International Monetary Fund said it is not expecting the UK to enter a recession this year. Issue date: Tuesday May 23, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story ECONOMY IMF. Photo credit should read: Aaron

George Bibb, head of the IPPR’s centre for economic justice, said: “It’s good news that headline inflation is lower, especially with energy bills coming down, but there is a very real risk that a recession may soon overtake price rises as the main economic concern.

“Other countries have brought inflation under control quicker than in the UK, with more support for households and workers avoiding unnecessary pain.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (above) said the easing of inflation shows “the decisive action we’ve taken to tackle inflation is working” but “we’re not at the finish line”.

“We must stick to our plan to halve inflation this year and get it back to the 2% target as soon as possible,” he added.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged at the start of the year to cut inflation in half, from a level of 10.7%, by the end of 2023.

Economists have most recently forecast that the UK Government will just achieve this, with the Bank of England currently projecting inflation to be around 4.9% in the last three months of the year.

ONS deputy director of prices Matthew Corder said: “Inflation slowed markedly for the second consecutive month, driven by falls in the price of gas and electricity as the reduction in the energy price cap came into effect.

“Although remaining high, food price inflation has also eased again, particularly for milk, bread and cereal.

The National:

“Core inflation was unchanged in July, with the falling cost of goods offset by higher service prices.”

The ONS said lower energy prices, which have slumped after volatility sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, were a key driver in the slowdown in inflation.

The average price per unit of electricity was slashed to 30p per unit while gas prices fell to 8p per unit. This means the average household bill dropped to £2074 from the capped £2500 rate.

Food inflation slowed down markedly but remains at historically high levels, while wages were still 0.6% lower once inflation was taken into account.

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James Smith, research director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Inflation has fallen rapidly over the past six months, but the UK still has the highest rate in the G7 and the Bank faces a daunting task in further taming price pressures.

“Accelerating pay growth will make even the Prime Minister’s promise to halve inflation hard to meet, let alone the Bank’s mandate of reducing it to 2%.”

The latest figures also showed the CPI measure of inflation including housing costs (CPIH) fell to 6.4% from 7.3% in June.

The Retail Prices Index meanwhile slowed to 9% from 10.7% in the previous month. The figure has previously been used to calculate annual train fare increases but the Government has confirmed that the next increase will be below this RPI rate.