LONDON (AP) — The Bank of England raised its main interest rate Thursday to a fresh 15-year high and indicated it would stay high for some time to bring down persistently high inflation — another potential blow for those seeing their rents and mortgages rise during a cost-of-living crisis.
The widely anticipated quarter-percentage point increase, to 5.25%, was the central bank’s 14th hike in a row. The bank said some of the risks from more stubborn inflation, notably higher wages, had “begun to crystallize,” leading it to push borrowing costs higher.
There had been fears, certainly among hard-pressed households and businesses, that the bank would repeat its outsized half-point increase from June. But figures last month showing that inflation fell more than anticipated to 7.9% eased the pressure to act as aggressively again.
In new forecasts, the central bank said inflation is expected to drop to 4.9% by the end of the year, with food price rises set to moderate.
“Inflation is falling, and that’s good news,” bank Gov. Andrew Bailey said. “We know that inflation hits the least well-off the hardest, and we need to make absolutely sure that it falls all the way back to the 2% target.”
With inflation four times that level, the bank is widely expected to hike again — potentially once more in September — before taking a pause as previous increases work through the economy. The effects of higher interest rates have a lag, most notably in the housing market, where many households will have to refinance their mortgages in the months to come at a higher cost.
“I don’t think it’s time to declare that it’s all over and sticking where we are for the moment,” Bailey told reporters. “We have to remain evidence-driven.”
In new language that appears to have doused hopes that the bank would reverse course soon, it said it would ensure borrowing costs remain “sufficiently restrictive for sufficiently long to return inflation to the target.”
The U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank also raised rates last week, but they are thought to be closer to a change in direction as they deal with far lower inflation rates than the U.K. Price spikes have eased to 3% in the United States and 5.3% across the 20 countries that use the euro currency.
Central banks around the world have been raising borrowing costs to combat inflation unleashed by higher energy prices after Russia invaded Ukraine and supply chain backups as the global economy recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
Higher interest rates help dampen inflation by making it more expensive for consumers and businesses to borrow to buy homes, cars or equipment. That also weighs on economic growth, but the bank appears confident that the British economy will avoid falling into recession over the coming years even as unemployment begins to rise.
“The price for taming inflationary pressures from Britain’s tight labor market is an increase in unemployment of around 350,000,” said James Smith, research director at the Resolution Foundation economics think tank.
Several reasons point to the U.K.’s higher inflation. Many economists blame Britain’s departure from the European Union, as Brexit impeded trade and raised costs for businesses. Others put more of the blame on the Bank of England itself — for being too slow in starting to raise interest rates, thereby allowing inflation to root itself more widely in the economy, most notably in higher wages.
Whatever the balance of blame, it’s been a particularly painful time for U.K. households whose mortgage rates or rents have skyrocketed while they struggle to make ends meet during a cost-of-living crisis marked by higher costs for food and energy.
But for many, the pain has yet to hit. Unlike in the U.S., most homeowners in Britain lock in mortgage rates for only a few years, so those whose deals expire soon face the prospect of much higher borrowing costs.
Around 2.5 million such deals are due to expire by the end of next year, with around a million households facing a 500-pound ($640) monthly increase in their mortgage repayments by 2026, according to Bailey.