Social Trends: Food spending takes smaller slice of income

Drug use, food and crime
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The Independent Online
DESPITE THE revolution in British eating habits we are spending a much smaller proportion of our income on food.

Britons are allocating a much greater proportion of their income to buying the many household goods that have come on to the market in the past 30 years.

Food, to which we allocated 17 per cent of our income in 1971, now accounts for just 11 per cent, despite the almost constant cookery programmes on television. Spending on consumer durables such as microwave ovens, video recorders and personal computers has trebled since 1971.

The wider availability of foreign travel has helped to increase our spending on transport and telecommunications by 250 per cent in the same period, yet spending on food has gone up by only 25 per cent in real terms. That is partly explained by the wider availability of high-quality foods at low prices.

Social Trends records that people in employment buy 81 per cent of their fruit, 77 per cent of their bread, 69 per cent of their wine and 49 per cent of their milk from supermarkets.

According to a separate piece of research included in the survey, Pakistani and Bangladeshi families spend the highest proportion of their income on food while Indian households spend the lowest. This discrepancy is largely due to the comparatively low earnings of most Pakistani and Bangladeshi households. The improved standard of living of most families in Britain has seen total household expenditure rise by 93 per cent to pounds 501bn since 1971, and the food bill is, for most people, of diminishing significance.

But in 10 per cent of households in the United Kingdom the people said they could not afford to eat meat every day.

This was five times more than households in Spain and the Netherlands and double those in Germany in France. Only Greece, where 35 per cent of families could not afford meat each day, fared worse than Britain.

The richest tenth of the British population eat the most carcase meat and fruit but the lowest amount of potatoes and sugar.

For a married couple with one partner working, three minutes of average paid work were required to buy a pint of milk in 1998, compared with five minutes in 1971. A pint of beer cost 13 minutes of paid work in 1998, compared with 14 minutes in 1971, with a packet of cigarettes at 24 minutes in 1998, and 22 minutes in 1971. Potatoes cost six minutes of work for a kilo last year, compared with four minutes a generation ago.

Consumption of fish has slowly declined since 1971 and sales of lamb and beef have fallen by about half. Beef sales began their drop around 1980, well before the BSE scare.

Poultry consumption has taken off, doubling in 25 years.