Feet Still Wet? Vimes’ Boots and the Real Cost of Inflation


leaky boots are made for walking

Oscar Wilde observed that “...to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.” In the case of George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the aphorism has clearly fallen on deaf ears. On Sky News discussing the Cost of Living crisis, he had this advice for struggling families:

“Generally speaking, what people find is by going for some of the value brands rather than own-branded products – they can actually contain and manage their household budget.”

Thanks George! Doubtless all those with a £10 weekly food budget who had hitherto been spending it on a Marks & Spencer ‘dine in’ deal and then starving for six days will be rejoicing at your sage advice.

The cookbook author and food poverty campaigner Jack Monroe has written extensively about how the typical retail basket used to measure inflation (the Consumer Price Index) is not a real measure of the price inflation that struggling households are facing on their food bills. The poverty activist is compiling their own Index that will detail price fluctuations in the supermarket value foods sector.

The Index is to be called the Vimes Boots Index in a nod to a paragraph in one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels where the lead character - a socially conscious police officer - muses on wealth inequality. It's worth quoting in full:

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

“Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

“But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

In a Twitter thread that went viral in January, Monroe cited examples of staple food prices that had increased by between 50% and 350% in the last year. The poor don’t need to be told to buy Tesco Value spaghetti rather than Napolini durum linguine - they are poor, not stupid. In fact, the necessity of making these calculations makes poor people excellent micro economists.

Monroe drawing attention to the issue led one supermarket chain - Asda - to reintroduce elements of their value range that had previously disappeared from the shelves. Now that is making an actual calculable difference to people's lives.

Vimes Boots Index is a great example of how technology and information can be used to help people who are struggling. Kanndoo was set up with the aim of developing software that could help homeless people either directly by filling gaps in the supply of their needs or indirectly by raising funds to buy goods for distribution to those who need them.

Do you have experience of budgeting on the breadline? We want to hear from people who would like to share their stories. You can contact Kanndoo on 01603 971590 or email enquiries@kanndoo.org