Belfast Telegraph

Family budget is £600 worse off

By Claire McNeilly

Families in Northern Ireland are more than £600 worse off than they were a year ago as the price of essentials like food and energy continue their spiralling rise.

Households have seen their disposable incomes plummet as bills go up while most wages remain frozen.

The average family had just £80 left to spend each week in June after income tax and essentials such as food and utility bills, new research has shown.

That figure is 14.8% lower than in June last year, according to the Asda Income Tracker (AIT), which also indicated that local families are, on average, 50% less well off than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

Economist John Simpson said that families here were around £620 less well-off as a result of a combination of negative economic factors.

The bad news comes as new figures published today by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed that overall shop price inflation slowed by a mere 0.1% in July from June.

Food prices, however, have risen by more than 5% compared to the same period year.

A relentless rise in the cost of living has meant that households here have less disposable income to spend on eating out, holidays or trips to the cinema.

But it's the price of day-to-day living that is posing the biggest problem for hard-pressed consumers across Northern Ireland, who have seen a spiralling rise in the cost of essentials. Home heating oil has risen by 12% in the past two years, while some staple foods such as bread and butter have risen by 40% in just 12 months.

Alcohol and tobacco prices have seen a 9.8% hike and air fares increased by 13.8%, making holidays abroad much less affordable.

Transport costs were, however, the greatest contributor to the increasing cost of living, according to the AIT, as the cost of getting around has risen by a shocking 16% in just one year.

Statistics provided by the AA revealed that the cost of petrol rose by 15.2% and diesel by 16% between June 2010 and June 2011.

In a report by Sainsbury's Finance it emerged that the cost of running a car is up by 21% since April 2010, resulting in over one million people in the UK being forced off the road.

The average car owner is now spending around £1,720 per year to fuel their vehicle, which is an increase of almost a third on the previous year.

It means that many motorists have changed their driving habits, opted for car sharing, or turned to public transport to try to lighten the load.

Earlier this year Translink froze its prices at last year's level across buses and trains to help consumers during challenging conditions as muted wage growth stifles spending power.

And retail expert Donald McFetridge said the tough outlook is likely to persist.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for families to make ends meet in these straitened times," he said.

"Now, more than ever, it's all about putting food on the table at the expense of perceived luxuries such as going out for meal."

The BRC said the three drivers of shop inflation are surging world commodity prices, the effect of the weak pound and higher VAT - all of which are outside retailers' control.

Mike Watkins, senior manager at analysis firm Nielsen, said shoppers are seeking to save on food to help pay for increases in other household bills such as transport and energy.

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