Who is Jack Monroe, what is the Vimes Boots poverty index, and what has the Terry Pratchett estate said?

Anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe has proposed a new Terry Pratchett-inspired poverty index called ‘Vimes Boots’.

By Oliver L Wood
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 12:43 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th January 2022, 1:27 pm

Who is Jack Monroe?

Jack Monroe is a food writer, journalist and a political activist and campaigner, and is well-known for campaigning on issues such as poverty and hunger relief.

Most of the campaigns that she has worked on are calling for political change and she campaigns a lot on anti-poverty.

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Anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe has proposed a new poverty index inspired by Terry Pratchett. The Vimes Boots index aims to more accurately portray the rising cost of living for the poorest in society. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Her latest campaign is about the rise of food prices and how it can be more unfair for the poorest in society, with price hikes on supermarket basics ranges not accurately reflected by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

What is the Consumer Price Index?

The CPI is a price index, that indicates the price of a weighted average market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households.

It is a measurement that shows changes in the cost of living, as the cost of these household items may go up or down depending on inflation.

Jack Monroe's campaign for the Vimes Boot index has prompted the ONS to reflect on how it calculates the consumer price index. Picture by Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Writing in The Guardian, Monroe said: “A collection of 700 pre-specified goods that includes a leg of lamb, bedroom furniture, a television and champagne seems a blunt and darkly comical tool for recording the impact of inflated grocery prices in a country where two and a half million citizens were forced by an array of desperate circumstances to use food banks in the last year.”

What is the Vimes Boots poverty index?

Inflation recently went up to 5.4 per cent, with Monroe arguing that the CPI ‘grossly underestimates the real cost of inflation’.

Her proposed Vimes Boots index would show how inflation affects poorer families the most and how basic food prices going up will create more problems amongst poorer people.

Anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe has criticised the Consumer Price Index, and says it does not accurately reflect changes in supermarket basic product ranges, which hit the poorest in society the hardest. Photo by LEON NEAL/AFP via Getty Images.

Monroe proposed this index to show how much inflation affects those who have less money, particularly as supermarkets reduce their basic product range offerings and those with less money are forced to pay for more expensive supermarket own-brand product ranges.

It has not been created yet, but she is asking for evidence in order to create it.

She is asking for people to send shopping receipts from the Big Four supermarkets (Asda, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Tesco) from 2012-2022 to [email protected]

What is wrong with using the Consumer Price Index?

Monroe argues the consumer price index doesn’t cater for people with lower incomes due to the increasingly narrow range of products included in the basic supermarket offerings.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Monroe illustrated the price increase of basic household goods such as pasta: “This time last year, the cheapest pasta in my local supermarket (one of the Big Four), was 29p for 500g. Today it’s 70p. That’s a 141 per cent price increase as it hits the poorest and most vulnerable households.”

Where does Vimes Boots come from?

The inspiration for the Vimes Boots index comes from a Terry Pratchett book that had a character called Samuel Vimes.

The character says it is ‘more expensive to be poor’, and gives an example about a poor person buying ten dollar boots that regularly need replacing, compared to a rich person who has the disposable income to splurge on a pair of 50 dollar boots that will last much longer.

What has the Terry Pratchett estate said?

Terry Pratchett’s estate has authorised Jack Monroe to use the Vimes Boots index as the name of her new price index, as it is intended to document the ‘insidiously creeping prices’ of basic food products and ultimately cause social change.

The Guardian said that Terry Pratchett’s daughter would be ‘proud’ that his work is used in that way, as it has resulted in potential change in how inflation is calculated.

What has the reaction to the Vimes Boots index been?

The inflation levels have been highest since 2011 but is clear that it the rising cost of living is disproportionately unfair for some, with Monroe’s campaign for a new index attracting widespread attention from national media and it has also been widely shared on social media.

In light of the campaign, the Office for National Statistics said that they accepted that every person had their own inflation rate, and it would do more to capture the impact of price increases on different income groups.

As a result, the organisation is changing how they document and calculate the consumer price index.