Dissent at the Bank, empty arrivals in Hartlepool and unsexy beards in Hackney

Top of the Charts

Afternoon all,

To make us feel better about our own political culture, France spent the week arguing about Emmanuel Macron’s biceps in now infamous boxing photos. Which is ridiculous. Because it’s his ginormous, belong-in-Bridgerton side-burns that should really be sparking outrage. British politics might have some gammons, but I’m relieved that it is largely chop free these days.

To wrench your attention away from these lofty questions, our reads update you on what our recent bout of inflation did to household finances, and what’s happening to the youth of Hartlepool. Oh, and whether facial hair is about men attracting a mate or competing for status against other males Putin…

Have a great weekend.


Chief Executive
Resolution Foundation

Eating enough. Thursday was a big day in wonk land, with DWP publishing the latest Households Below Average Incomes stats, covering what happened to incomes and inequality during 2022-23 (i.e. the peak of the cost of living crisis). Despite smaller than feared income falls (1.5 per cent for the typical household), it doesn’t make for pretty reading. The stats lay out what we’ve all seen locally, as food bank queues grow: that the rising cost of essentials has caused huge hardship among poorer households. The number of people living in absolute poverty (the poverty measure that is meant to fall year-on-year) rose by 600,000 to 12 million, with a proportionally bigger increase in children in that position (up 300,000 to 3.6 million children). The numbers experiencing food insecurity are perhaps the most shocking, up from 5 to 7 million people in just one year. Half of those (3.7 million) are in what statisticians call “very low food security” – which translated, means not having enough money for food. That is up over 60 per cent in just one year. A terrible outcome in the 21st Century.

Insufficient income. A last fact to leave you with from HBAI – a staggering 41 per cent of households on Universal Credit are now food insecure. To understand why, have a read of the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s new report into the adequacy of benefit levels. They attempt to meet the Government’s “challenge” of there being “no objective way of deciding what benefits should be”. Their simple answer is that even if that is true, it’s pretty clear they should be higher than today. Assuming that you don’t want widespread destitution.

Draining debunked. For those of you (disgracefully) not glued to my twitter feed, I wanted to plug a great new ONS tool that exploits the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset to track young adults growing up in different parts of England. It neatly debunks the myth that the big problem facing all deprived places is a brain drain, where too many people are going to university and then moving away from the area. Instead, it spells out that such areas tend to have a lower proportion of youngsters going to university, and in many cases even among those who do become graduates they are actually more likely to stay where they grew up than graduates in richer places outside London. A stat to remember – 71 per cent of graduates who grew up in Hartlepool are still living there in their mid/late 20s vs 52 per cent in Tunbridge Wells. What really marks the likes of Hartlepool out? Not unusually large numbers of people leaving, but almost no one arriving.

Dreamy dimorphism. The team thought you might like some light relief. So, stepping out of our comfort zone, here’s a study on what attracts (straight) people to the opposite sex and how that shapes sexual dimorphism (men/women being physically different). The basic argument is that our preferences correlate with evolutionary imperatives, but with variation between cultures. My main takeaway? The metrosexuals are in trouble. Apparently “80 per cent of the variation in attractiveness” judgement by women of men is based on… their muscles. And things get even worse for hipsters: beards are more effective at communicating dominance to other men, than attracting women. Thoughts are with Hackney at this difficult time.

Panicked Picassos. At last, we’ve got the answer to the big question that we know has been keeping you up at night: how does the art market react to crises? This paper (free version) brings together the economic and artistic worlds that rarely meet to show that you want to hold off buying art at the start of a war (prices plummet) but that paintings/sculptures become a good investment towards the end of hostilities. War also boosts the relative value of smaller paintings, given that fleeing with a large oil landscape is easier said than done.

Chart of the Week

You anxious mortgagors will have to wait a while longer for interest rate cuts, after another “hold fire” Monetary Policy Committee meeting. To make no news interesting, COTW is taking a longer view of dissent on the MPC i.e. how likely those voting were to disagree with the actual decision taken. We’ve split this between internal BoE staffers and the external MPC members who are there to reduce the risk of group think. It shows a recent surge in dissent among external MPC members – the majority of their votes have been against the decision taken over the past three years. In contrast there’s been almost zero dissent among internal members, meaning they have always won the vote (having a 5-4 majority on the committee). This is odd given more dissent recently should be expected and something I’d expect the Treasury Select Committee to raise with the BoE at some point. As inflation shot up and has fallen as fast, there’s been far more uncertainty compared to the steady 2 per cent inflation of the 2000s or consistently rock-bottom interest rates of the 2010s. Contrary to the musings whingeing of some ex-members, there’s no evidence that too much gender/ethnic diversity is suppressing diversity of thought – in fact more diversity of views on interest rates has come as the committee has become more diverse (it’ll soon have its first ever female majority).