Survey of family spending charts half century of consumer culture

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The Independent Online

Britons are spending proportionately more than ever on housing and less on food, according to official statistics charting the changing lifestyle and rising prosperity in Britain over 50 years.

After a decade of booming property prices, housing costs such as mortgages and council tax consume almost one fifth of household expenditure, or £619 a month, figures from the Office of National Statistics show.

But there is a stark north-south divide: homeowners in London pay the most, £754 a month, and renters in Scotland spend £120. In 1957, when the Government started its Family Spending survey, and the average weekly income was £14.30, housing cost 24 shillings (9 per cent of spending), usually in rent to a landlord rather than mortgage payments to a bank. With food, modern families spend just 15 per cent of their income on stocking up, compared with one-third in the 1950s.

Every year, 6,000 households are interviewed by researchers for the ONS to determine how they spend their money. To mark the 50th anniversary, the ONS published extracts from the first survey in 1957, when the country was emerging from the austerity that followed the Second World War and getting to grips with new discoveries, such as rock'*'roll and teenagers.

Harold Macmillan, then the Conservative prime minister, declared: "Most of our people have never had it so good" but most people were still concerned with obtaining the basic necessities. Motoring and other transport costs; cinemas, hairdressers and other services and household goods, each took up less than 10 per cent of average income.

By the late 1990s, housing passed food as the main cost for a household. The geographic divide is even starker in rent than in mortgages. Households in London pay £120 a week rent, more than double the national average, while homes in the South-east pay 10 per cent more than the national average.

There has been a sharp rise in disposable income going on foreign travel, cars, furniture and furnishings and electronic gadgetry such as widescreen TVs, Playstations and DVD players. At 15 per cent, leisure services are now equal in spending to food.

And in an age when most people have a car, motoring costs have jumped to 14 per cent. Tobacco takes up 1 per cent of spending, six times less than in the 1950s. But the proportion spent on alcohol has stayed at 3 per cent.

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