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UK inflation jumped to 2.1% in the year to May, as the opening up of the economy from lockdown sparked a rise in consumer spending.

The Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation rose from 1.5% in April, according to the Office for National Statistics, driven by the rising cost of clothes, fuel and food and drink.

Inflation is now at its highest since before the pandemic.

That is likely to fuel a debate about whether interest rates should go up.

May’s reading was above most economists’ forecasts of an increase of about 1.8%, and means inflation is now above the Bank of England’s 2% target.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said: “The rate of inflation rose again in May and is now above 2% for the first time since the summer of 2019.

“This month’s rise was led by fuel prices, which fell this time last year but have jumped this year, thanks to rising crude prices. Clothing prices also added upward pressure as the amount of discounting fell in May.”

‘Rushing back’

Karen Ward, a chief market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, said the May figure was a “big upside surprise”.

She told the BBC’s Today programme the increase in inflation was due to consumers rushing back to the shops after coronavirus restrictions eased.

She said: “They have got all these savings they accumulated last year when they weren’t allowed out but supply is really struggling to keep pace, and so what we are seeing therefore is pops of prices in various aspects of the consumer basket.”

She said if inflation pressure was sustained into next year, “we could see interest rate hikes”.

Inflation is not only on the rise in the UK, with US consumer prices hitting 5% in May, the highest in almost 13 years.