Leisure eats up more of income than food

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Britons are spending more on leisure than food and drink for the first time since records were kept, according to the latest government figures on family spending.

Britons are spending more on leisure than food and drink for the first time since records were kept, according to the latest government figures on family spending.

A report by the Office for National Statistics shows that people are spending 38 per cent more on living, in real terms, than they did 30 years ago, but prefer to spend their money on hobbies and going out rather than eating at home.

In 1999, people spend on average £59.80 a week on leisure goods and services, nearly three times more in real terms than they did in 1968. In contrast, expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks has fallen from 26 per cent of family spending in 1968 - £63.90 per week at today's prices - to 17 per cent in 1999, or £58.90.

The increasing proportion of family income spent on leisure is caused partly by the technological revolution, which has quadrupled expenditure on televisions, video, computers and music systems to £8 a week for the average household. Many more people arespending money on holidays, fitness club memberships andcinema tickets compared with 30 years ago.

Mass production of food and competitive supermarket prices are believed to have led to the decrease in money spent on weekly food and drink. The figures show that fewer people are cooking - instead buying take-away food they eat at home. The amount people spend on take-aways is up 13 per cent compared with last year, averaging £3.10 a week.

Despite one-third of all households owning a computer, access to technology is highly dependent on income. In higher-income households, 70 per cent have a computer compared with only one in 10 in poorer households. Overall, one in 10 households uses the Internet. That includes only 1 to 4 per cent of low-income households but 32 per cent of high-income households.

Britons are spending 38 per cent more in real terms than they did 30 years ago. The highest increases have been in Yorkshire, Humberside and the South-east, where people are spending 40 per cent more than in 1968. Over the past three years, the average weekly expenditure ranged from £380 in London and the South-east to £280 in the North-east. Londoners spent the most on housing and transport. In London, outlay for train, bus and Tube travel has doubled in real terms in the past 30 years, from an average of £8 a week to £15.70.

People living in Northern Ireland spent 36 per cent more than the national average on uncooked meat, while the Scottish spent nearly twice as much as the national average on spirits and liqueurs.

The figures revealed a huge difference between the average spending of higher and lower income households, with those at the bottom spending £110 a week compared with those in the highest group spending £770.

People with higher incomes spend more on housing and cars than they do on food but are much less likely to spend money on cigarettes.

Although gas and electricity bills fell by 10 per cent and 5 per cent respectively last year, expenditure on mobile phone accounts soared by 25 per cent and people also paid 8 per cent more on other phone accounts.

"Gas and electricity bills have largely fallen because of competition between different providers which has lowered prices," said Denis Down, of the Office of National Statistics.