Commentary: Lots of shopping still to be done

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The Independent Online
The Central Statistical Office's flagship publication, Social Trends, is as much of a numerical goldmine as ever. The figures may not always be up to date, but it is not possible to find such a useful overview anywhere else.

Any business person worrying that our fellow citizens are sating their desires for goods and services need have few fears. Judging by the consumption patterns of the well-off, there is still plenty of growth left even in basic markets.

Nearly a third of households still have no access to a car (so, yes, public transport matters). Those that drive small cars are likely to aspire to bigger ones, if only because they are safer. Social Trends shows that 67 per cent of Mini drivers were hurt in accidents, whereas just 37 per cent of Rover 800 drivers were hurt.

Looking at consumer durables, more than 80 per cent of households now own deep-freezers, washing machines, telephones and televisions. But other products show potential. Among professional people, 45 per cent own a home computer, 35 per cent a CD player and 36 per cent a dishwasher. Among households as a whole, the proportions are just 20 per cent, 21 per cent and 13 per cent.

Other growth markets leap out of the figures. As the population continues to age, personal care will expand. On the darker side, the rise in crime and in concern about the environment means that private spending on security and clean water is likely to continue to mount.

Social Trends also confirms some long- standing prejudices. The British spend less on clothing and footwear than anyone else in Western Europe, tying for that sartorial wooden spoon with the Luxembourgers, with just 6.2 per cent of total spending. The winners, of course, were the Italians (and the Portuguese) with 10.3 per cent. The British spend more than average on transport, communication, recreation and entertainment.