EVER since the Brexit vote, there has been an inevitability about one crucial UK economic theme for this year.

That theme is the combination of surging inflation, caused by sterling weakness, and poor earnings growth, reflecting not only the erosion of employees’ bargaining power over recent years but also now companies’ wariness over raising salary bills given Brexit is looming. The Brexit vote, as we should all know by now, has added very significantly to the UK’s economic fragility.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show a surge in annual UK consumer prices index inflation from 2.7 per cent in April to 2.9 per cent last month. So annual inflation, which stood at 0.3 per cent in May last year ahead of the Brexit vote, has moved yet further above the Bank of England’s two per cent target.

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For hard-pressed households, which have had to navigate the financial crisis, the 2008/09 recession and years of grim Conservative austerity, the combination of surging inflation and paltry pay settlements is unpalatable indeed.

The latest Scottish Retail Consortium figures today show continued weakness of non-food sales, the more discretionary element of high street spending.

ONS figures last month showed households in Great Britain had suffered the first annual fall in real earnings for two-and-a-half years. Average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in the three months to March, excluding bonuses, were down 0.2 per cent on a year earlier in inflation-adjusted terms. Yesterday’s inflation numbers indicate that things are very likely to get even worse on this front.

We should not forget the extent to which consumers have had to fuel the UK’s albeit unconvincing economic recovery over recent years.

But they can only keep supporting it if they have enough money in their pockets, and the inflation figures suggest that might be a big problem.