Families in Northern Ireland have been the hardest hit in the UK by a steep dive in disposable income, with just £83 per week left over in their pockets, according to a new survey.
The latest Asda Income Tracker said that average UK family spending power fell by £10 a week in March 2012 - reversing the improving trend seen in recent months and the biggest drop since December 2011.
This left the average UK family with £144 of weekly disposable income, 6.5% down from the same time last year.
The report said that families in Northern Ireland fared worst of all, recording a disposable income of only £83 and highlighting the widening gulf between Northern Ireland and other regions throughout the UK.
The decrease of 7%, compared to last year's figures for Northern Ireland, is one of the biggest drops in disposable incomes across the UK, reflecting the fact that families here spend more on essential items, leaving them particularly exposed to recent price increases in fuel and certain foods.
In contrast, discretionary income in London was £266 a week on average in the first quarter of this year.
The Asda report tracks the typical amount of income remaining after the average UK household has had taxes subtracted and bought its basic items.
The official measure of the rising cost of living was up in February, as the consumer price index (CPI) rose over the year by 3.5%, well above average earnings growth which remained weak at just 1.6%.
Andy Clarke, the Asda president, said that it is worrying to see the cost of essentials creeping back up. "Unemployment drove the continued drop in disposable income in March and throughout the quarter, with a growing divide between the nations and regions," he said.
"We're firm in our commitment to help tackle this in 2012, by creating new jobs, working with new communities and bringing Asda value where it matters most to families across the UK."
The average family's amount of weekly disposable income here