Nation turns increasingly to drink

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The Independent Online
BRITONS ARE spending 40 per cent more on alcohol than they did 30 years ago, with wine and spirits becoming increasingly popular tipples, according to a new survey.

Drinking wine on foreign holidays, seeing a drink as a "cheap treat" and less public disapproval of women drinking are likely to be reasons behind the change in spending patterns.

The Government's latest annual Family Spending survey into "who's spending, how much, on what and where" shows that we are also changing what we drink as well as how much we consume.

While traditional beers and ciders still outsell wines and spirits, expenditure on them rose by only a quarter in real terms, while spending on wines and spirits increased by three-quarters in 30 years. The biggest rise in alcohol spending was in the 1970s and 1980s.

The poorest fifth of the population accounted for the biggest rise in alcohol spending, up 80 per cent, whereas for the richest fifth it rose by 35 per cent. "There is no obvious reason why spending on alcohol should have increased so much," said Denis Down, the report's editor.

"Probably it is down to increased incomes, but also changes in fashion. People are also getting used to wine on foreign holidays. It may also be seen as one of the cheaper luxuries, particularly for those on lower incomes. And it could be that drinking is now more acceptable amongst women than it used to be."

The largest rise in spending overall has been in housing, thanks not only to the growing numbers of those buying their own home, but the increasing passion for home improvement. As a percentage of total spending it is up from 9 per cent of total expenditure in 1968 to 16 per cent today, accounting for pounds 51.50 per week.

While nearly all of the spend is due to rent, mortgage, council tax and water bills, 15 per cent is spent on maintenance, repairs and decorations. "Obviously part of the growth in proportion is the increased number of mortgages," Mr Down said. "But the rise also includes DIY and we know that owner-occupiers are spending a lot on maintaining their houses."

Mr Down said the gap between rich and poor remains as wide as ever, with the richest spending 60 per cent more than they did 30 years ago compared to a rise in spending of only 13 per cent by the worst off.

The average weekly expenditure of households in the United Kingdom was pounds 329, pounds 20 up on last year. But spending varies from an average of pounds 96 for the worst tenth of households compared with pounds 720 for the highest tenth.

Lone parents are among the worst off, Mr Down said. Families headed by one parent spent about pounds 200 a week - half of what families with two or more adults spent.

Thirty years ago food was by far the biggest drain on expenditure. But with the growth of the leisure society, Britons now spend only 80p a week more on essential nourishment than leisure goods and services.

The nation's love affair with consumer durables continues with most people now seeing them as a necessity. More than 90 per cent of all households now own a washing machine, more than 99 per cent have a refrigerator and 94 per cent own a telephone. Ownership of videos and CD players also continues to increase.

Spending on tobacco saw a "striking" decrease among the richest, from pounds 18.50 a week to pounds 6, as health messages started to take effect.

Family Spending 1997-98, is published by the Stationery Office; price pounds 39.50

the nation's

spending

The average household spend is pounds 329 a week.

n Household spending ranges from pounds 96 to pounds 720 between the poorest and richest families.

Spending on housing has risen from 9 per cent to 16 per cent of total expenditure.

Households spend on average pounds 56 a week on food and pounds 55 on leisure.

Tobacco has fallen from 6 per cent to 2 per cent of total spending.

Spending on alcohol has risen by 40 per cent over the past 30 years.

More than 70 per cent say that they gamble, compared with 55 per cent in 1994-95.

Spending on tea and coffee has doubled in the past 30 years, but by 1997-78 more was spent on coffee than on tea. Spending in the South-east is more than pounds 60 above the UK average.

Households in Wales and the North-east buy the fewest toiletries.

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