Good times roll as Britons spend on fun

Statistics show the rise of a leisure society. Glenda Cooper reports
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The Independent Online
The days of the workaholic are over. The British are turning into a leisure society, spending nearly as much on enjoying themselves each week as they do on food.

Average family spending on leisure (which includes going to the cinema and theatre, sports and hobbies) has risen to pounds 45.80 per week, just behind the two necessities of food (pounds 52.90) and housing (pounds 48.20). As a percentage of weekly expenditure, food has dropped from nearly one-third in the 1960s to around one-sixth today. This can partly be explained by cheaper staple foods and higher incomes.

The annual Family Expenditure Survey, carried out by the Office for National Statistics, is a snapshot of how we spend our money today. It found this year that on average a household spends pounds 290 per week, a rise of 2 per cent on last year despite income rising 3.2 per cent.

Among the wealthiest this rises to pounds 623, while the poorest can afford only pounds 87.80. Incomes vary between pounds 875 per week for the top 20 per cent and pounds 83.60 for the poorest 20 per cent.

Between 1965 and 1995-96, weekly income from wages and salaries declined from 76 per cent to 64 per cent of total income. The report's editor, John King, said this was due to the population ageing and receiving more of its income from pensions.

Leisure is an increasingly important part of the British lifestyle despite a recent report from the European Commission which found that that we work the most hours in Europe. On average we spent 90p a week on cinema admissions, pounds 2.69 on television and satellite rental and pounds 1.93 on sports admissions and subscriptions.

Gambling payments were up more than pounds 1 from pounds 2.51 to pounds 3.81 as the National Lottery maintains its grip on the nation's wallets, rising by 13 per cent since last year. Officials from the Office for National Statistics think the amount may be much higher when scratchcards are taken into account. Mr King said he believed it reflected only 20 per cent of the cash spent on cards. At the same time, as charities have feared, cash donations were down 35p per week.

Spending on televisions, videos and computers was up slightly, as it was on camcorders, cameras and camping equipment. Holidays, both at home and abroad, also ate up more money than last year.

The popularity of eating out and snack meals out continued to grow, up to pounds 10.39 per week on average from pounds 9.81 last year. Eating out was most popular in London and the South-east while Northerners spent least. Expenditure on take-away meals eaten at home was highest in Northern Ireland but well below the UK average in Wales, East Anglia and the South-west.

The success of supermarkets was reflected in figures showing the struggles of the butcher, the baker, greengrocer and fishmonger. Two-thirds of bread is bought at supermarkets, on which shoppers also rely as the main supplier of their fish. Only a quarter of vegetables sold comes from local shops.

However, the survey may indicate the survival of the milkman. Families spend 98p a week on milk from supermarkets, and pounds 1.48 on buying milk from other stores.

One of the largest expenses for any household continues to be transport.

The FES discovered that a family with one car spends just under pounds 40 a week on it. The figure nearly doubled for a two-car household. The main component of running costs was fuel and oil. Second-hand cars are bought most frequently, with more than three times as many families buying used rather than new.

What people choose to spend their money on threw up intriguing regional variations. The level of spending varied from pounds 258 in the North to pounds 327 in Greater London. While Londoners have to fork out pounds 61.40 per week for housing, their equivalents in Northern Ireland are spending only an average pounds 27.50.

Living up to stereotypes, the South-east spent most on wines, Scotland spent the most on spirits and liqueurs and the North-west spent the most on beer and cider. Spending on tea was close to 50p in all regions

And one health message appears to have got through. Tobacco is one area which has consistently fallen since 1960. In 1960 it accounted for 5.9 per cent; now it has more than halved to 2 per cent.

t Family Spending; Stationery Office, available from bookshops priced pounds 35.95.

Who spends what, and where

t Northern Ireland: Highest expenditure on tobacco at pounds 8.10 a week, and also on women's outerwear

t Yorkshire and Humberside: More households than average have a washing machine, but have below-average number of tumbledriers

t East Anglia has the nation's chocoholics, spending pounds 1.70 a week

t South-east spends the most on eating out at pounds 9

t Greater London: Average weekly expenditure the highest in Britain at pounds 327 a week

t South-west: Lowest expenditure on bread and fizzy drinks but highest spending on pets

t East Midlands: Spends more on motoring in the UK - pounds 51 per week - and the most on holidays

t West Midlands: 83 per cent of households have a video recorder compared with 79 per cent UK average

t Scotland: The Scots are the most avid newspaper readers, spending pounds 2.60 a week

t Wales: The Welsh spend the least on cosmetics and hair products

t North-west: The nation's drinkers, spending pounds 14.50 on alcohol a week

t The North: Highest weekly expenditure on meat pies and sausages

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