A pocket money survey to make Jamie despair

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The Independent Online

The first detailed survey of how children spend their pocket money appears to confirm most parents' worst fears - more than half of the average child's weekly allowance goes on sweets, snacks, games and videos.

The first detailed survey of how children spend their pocket money appears to confirm most parents' worst fears - more than half of the average child's weekly allowance goes on sweets, snacks, games and videos.

Books and magazines represent just 7 per cent of a child's weekly spending, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In a portrait of today's children that would make Jamie Oliver's toes curl, ONS research found kids tend to pursue a sedentary lifestyle fuelled by a sugary and fatty diet.

A typical child spends almost a fifth of his or her pocket money on sweets, snacks and drinks and about the same again on other food purchases, that include school dinners but also takeaways such as hamburgers.

The facts emerged from ONS research into children's pocket money as part of its annual survey of family spending.

The ONS based its figures on diaries kept by more than 4,100 children over two years. The results suggest that a typical child aged between seven and 15 spends about £13 a week.

They spend more than a third of their own cash - 36 per cent - on sweets and food, with average spending on the two categories ranging from £2.50 a week for children aged seven to nine to £6.80 per week for those aged 13 to 15.

Those aged 13 to 15 spend an average of £20.40 per week, compared with £11.30 for 10-12-year-olds and £7 for those aged seven to nine. Girls' buying power outstripped boys in each of the three age categories, suggesting an inequality in pocket money allocation. Girls aged 7 to 15 spent an average £13.60 per week, compared with a typical boy's weekly spend of £12.40.

As would be expected, girls are more concerned with "personal care" than boys - the survey found girls spent six times as much on items such as deodorant as boys, who fork out just 20p a week in this category. By the age of 13, the gender gap is also beginning to show on clothes shopping, with girls spending £2.10 on clothes and shoes compared with £1.20 for boys.

Boys devoted a larger chunk of their non-food spending to games, toys, hobbies and pets - £2.50 or 20 per cent a week on average across all age groups. Girls allocated just 90p or 7 per cent.

The gender gap is even starker when it comes to spending on computer software and games with boys forking out 11 times as much as girls.

Mobile phones are used by both sexes equally, with children allocating 4 per cent of their budget or 50p a week to phones and charges - a category their parents would not have considered, and one that appears likely to spiral over coming years.

Children allocate 7 per cent of their budget or 90p a week to cultural activities and with a similar amount going on magazines and books.

Te survey, which is the most comprehensive survey on family spending habits in Britain, also indicated that households paid out more money every week than they received.

Households' overall average weekly household expenses came to £592 in the 2003-04 tax year while their gross average income was £570. While spending rose by almost 5 per cent on the previous year, incomes grew by just over 3.2 per cent indicating that households are getting deeper into debt.

The figures will also add to concern that households are failing to save enough for their old age, despite having accumulated a total of more than a trillion pounds of debt.

Statisticians warned the two measures were not strictly comparable as money from insurance policies, sales of assets, bet winnings and windfalls such as legacies were not included as income, even though they might fund extra spending.

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