Cost of living 1953 vs 2023: how have prices changed since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation?

King Charles III is set to be crowned in Westminster Abbey on Saturday (6 May) - here’s how much a pint of beer and a loaf of bread cost 70 years ago

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The UK is set to mark King Charles III’s Coronation on Saturday (6 May), with tens of thousands of people likely to brave downpours to be at the event in London.

Given it is the first Coronation the UK has seen in almost exactly 70 years, many comparisons have been made with the Coronation of the King’s mother - Elizabeth II - on 2 June 1953. While some traditions are being broken, others will remain, including the Royal family’s famous Buckingham Palace balcony appearance.

It is expected Charles’s Coronation will cost almost double his mother’s crowning ceremony once inflation is taken into account. It is also likely to draw in more TV viewers given more people now own televisions and streaming devices.

But unlike the 1953 event, the UK is in the midst of a major cost of living crisis. While poverty was widespread at the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, with an estimated 10.1% of households struggling to afford basic necessities, current estimates suggest a fifth of the population could currently be below the breadline. It comes as people across the country are being hit by record inflation levels and high interest rates.

So, how do 1953’s day-to-day costs compare to those we’re seeing now? NationalWorld has looked at historic Office for National Statistics data to find out.

How have we measured prices?

To work out exactly how consumer prices have changed since the last Coronation in 1953, we have looked at the Retail Prices Index (RPI). This benchmark was the UK’s official measurement of inflation for most of the 20th century before the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) took over in 1996.

The ONS data we have analysed shows us the prices of key food and day-to-day items as of October 1953 - the month that was taken to be the average for that year. These have been converted into modern-day pence by the UK’s official statistics body to reflect the UK’s decimalisation in 1971 and make for easier historical comparisons. We have then compared the 1953 figures with the latest average price data from March 2023 (although the modern day data should not be viewed as an exact average, the ONS says).

As well as showing how prices have changed in real terms, we have also worked out what the 1953 prices would equate to in today’s money. To do this, we have run them through the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, which roughly shows how the value of the pound has changed over the years.

It does this by taking a figure and multiplying it by the difference between the average inflation rate in the year it was taken and the year you wish to compare it to. For example, £1 in 1953 would now be worth £22.63 after 70 years of inflation is taken into account.

How do Queen’s Coronation 1953 prices compare to 2023?

Here is how 1953 prices compare to March 2023’s (the latest period for which we have inflation data), according to NationalWorld analysis of ONS data.

(graphic: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)(graphic: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)
(graphic: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg)

As you can see, the cost of living tends to be more expensive now than it was back in 1953. For example, most pub goers would chew your arm off to secure a £2.06 pint of beer, while loose tea is 65% more expensive than the 2023 equivalent of the last Coronation’s prices.

But some things are a bit cheaper. Average apple prices come in 12% lower than in 1953, while eggs and sugar are also marginally cheaper.

There are a multitude of reasons behind why the prices listed above are so different. Advances in technology have made some production processes cheaper, while higher wages and taxes have meant shelf-prices have gone up.

Take cigarettes as an example. Government figures show tobacco duty on cigarettes increased 2,210% between 1978 and 2017 (when the tax was changed) - 39 years out of the 70-year-period NationalWorld has looked at for this piece. In part, this explains why prices have risen 7,414% over the entire 70-year period.