A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The rising cost of living

Neil Pickford comes over all biblical
Firstly, let me offer you yet another of my apologies. Two weeks ago I misquoted myself when I wrote that I had been ‘The’ film critic of the Bristol Evening Post instead of ‘A’ film critic for the group. Just thought I’d better set the record straight as I believe that facts are important.
Opinions however…..
I’m going to try and experiment this week readers and admit that I’m beginning this article without any idea how it will end. The next 800 words will in fact, be guided by the researches I do en route and I will be sharing the results of these researches with you as I progress. You are therefore actually witnessing the process of creation as you read.
Gosh. Isn’t it exciting?
I am taking the subject of inflation as my theme today, specifically inflation in the costs of things, not the current condition of my waistline. Now it may be that, as a result, I start to veer into moral issues, which is unusual. After all, as I have explained in the past, in Beverley Minster the vicar does the theology and I shift the chairs.
However, it’s fun sometimes to go outside your immediate comfort zone and, let’s be honest, after we virgers’ huge efforts spent in rebuilding the interior of the Minster after the wedding fair last Saturday, it’s very nice to move to matters meditative for a while.
I started thinking about inflation as a result of a coincidence: two unrelated documents that were rather unexpectedly passed to me yesterday. The first was a major dissertation on the history of Beverly Minster which revealed to me that, back in mediaeval times the Minster’s annual income was £900 – making it the second-richest non-cathedral religious body in the entire north of England.
So, 500 years ago a sum of £900 was an absolute fortune: now it’s roughly the total monthly pay of an adult on minimum wage. We all know that prices were different in The Goode Olde Daze but comparisons based on these figures alone don’t come close to telling the whole story. Apparently, £1 in 1750 (the earliest date available on the Bank of England calculator) was worth £172.92 in 2010. This means that £900 back then today translates into £155,628 today – but that’s not a huge fortune.
These days are probably several individuals in Beverley who earn that every year, so simple multiplication obviously doesn’t convey the full story.
I’d hoped the second document, which is rather more recent, would be easier to translate – but actually it doesn’t seem to help much either.
It was part of an appeal for funds to restore the magnificent organ in the Minster: It asks: “Must this noble organ fall silent?” and underneath a photo of the keyboard are the heart-tugging words: “Yesterday this note was playing. Today nothing happens.”
To prevent this deplorable state of affairs continuing the huge sum of £8,400 was needed in 1962. Yes, £8,400! And this required a huge campaign with patrons of the calibre of The Lords Middleton and Hotham. Yet now, some 50 years later, £8.4K is less than a virger earns in a year (and that’s a pretty easy target to reach, let me tell you).
The inflation calculator tells us that a 1962 £1 equals £16.62 in 2010 (inflation averaged 6% every year in the interim) so, today, inflation-adjusted, £8,400 then is equivalent to £140,000 now.
But a similarly-sized rebuild of the organ at Bridlington Priory is currently estimated to cost £750,000 – nearly six times the inflation-adjusted price!
Hmmmmm – it would appear that figures by themselves don’t tell anything like the full story – important things really are getting a lot more expensive than they were. Any lovely person who put aside a lump sum of £10K a few years ago hoping that, on their death, their bequest would pay for major repairs to our Snetzler would be very, very disappointed now.
I tried to find out what the Bible had to say on the subject of inflation – is it good or bad? Frankly, it wasn’t very helpful. Proverbs 13:11 – “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow”
Hmmm, not sure about that because, as the rate of inflation has frequently outstripped savings rates over the last 50 years it’s been darned hard to find legitimate saving accounts that keep pace– so all money saved is money that is losing value, honestly gained or otherwise.
But, as we all know, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil(1 Timothy 6:10), so perhaps, morally, we shouldn’t worry about the value of our money in the future. It seems to imply that there’s no point in worrying about saving for your retirement because…. Well, just don’t worry, that’s all.
And Matthew 6:19 warns us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”
So my very basic Biblical research seems to be telling me there’s no point worrying about inflation eating away my savings (savings? ha!) and that there’s nothing morally right or wrong about inflation (i.e. spending more money to get less), per se.
And yet my dear wife informs me that Arial recently reduced the number of biological tabs in its plastic boxes, firstly from 24 to 23 and now down to 21, for the same price.
And, on so many levels, that seems just WRONG!

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