Consumer price inflation hit 9% in April, the Office for National Statistics said, surpassing even the peaks of the early 1990s recession many Britons remember for sky-high interest rates and widespread payment defaults.
A Reuters poll of economists had indicated a reading of 9.1%. The British pound fell after the data and was down 0.4% against the US dollar.
Sunak said countries around the world were being hit by high inflation.
“We cannot fully protect people from these global challenges, but we are providing strong support where we can and we are ready to take further action,” he said.
Anti-poverty campaigners have called on him to act now, starting with an immediate increase in the value of social benefits to match inflation.
“As the price of basic necessities like food and energy continues to soar, [Sunak’s] inaction will make an already dire situation for many even worse,” said Rebecca McDonald, senior economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which advocates for low-income households.
A survey published on Tuesday showed that two in three people in Britain switched off their heating, almost half drove less or changed supermarkets and just over a quarter said they had skipped meals.
Earlier this month, the Bank of England predicted inflation would top 10% later this year and investors expect the BoE to add to the four interest rate hikes it has made since December, which took its discount rate to 1% – its highest since 2009.
“Things will get worse before they get better,” said Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, a consultant on Wednesday’s data.
There were signs of further inflationary pressures to come, as manufacturers suffered the biggest joint increase on record in the prices they pay for their inputs, which rose 18.6% a year, matching the peak in March.
Factories raised prices 14% in the 12 months to April, the biggest jump since July 2008.