Belfast Telegraph

We have £87 less spare cash each week than rest of the UK

By Claire McNeilly

Families in Northern Ireland have around £4,000 less in disposable income per year than anywhere else in the UK, it has emerged.

Households here are struggling to live on £76 a week - less than half the national average of £163 - after their essential outlay on food and bills.

That figure is almost a fifth (18.9%) lower than September last year after expenditure is adjusted for lower incomes and the rising cost of basics.

Statistics from the Asda Income Tracker also show that, overall, local families are £18 a week worse off in October 2011 than in 2010 - or £900 annually.

Leading economist John Simpson said these figures, which were published yesterday, confirm that local homeowners are struggling with the economic squeeze.

"This emphasises what other evidence has already made clear, in that Northern Ireland is being hit harder in terms of living standards than any other region of the UK," he said.

"But a lot of this is imposed from places and pressures that we have little control over, such as the international price of food, the effects of the exchange rate on what we purchase from elsewhere and the degree to which the UK has internal inflation of 5%, which is higher than other places."

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last week that the average wage here was down by some £900 when recent inflationary changes are taken into account.

However, the grim new disclosure that households across the province struggle on half the average allowance in Great Britain makes for shocking reading.

This is particularly concerning as the cost of living in Northern Ireland - food, fuel, utility bills and car insurance - is higher than in other UK regions.

According to the latest figures, families in Great Britain have £87 more weekly in disposable income compared to here - an annual difference of over £4,000.

Northern Ireland emerged as the hardest-hit region for the fourth consecutive quarter with year-on-year spending power falling by 18.9%.

The soaring cost of basics is proving a significant drain on household incomes, with heating and lighting prices hitting wallets hard.

Average electricity and gas costs rose elsewhere in the UK by 12.9% and 22.3% respectively, whereas the rises here were 18.7% and 36.9%.

Motoring watchdog the AA also said the price of fuel rose by 15% locally in one year, while home heating oil has soared by 23%.

Food is up 6% between this year and last, and car insurance premiums are, on average, priced at 8% more here than the rest of Great Britain.

Asda president Andy Clarke said there has been a decline in family spending power for 18 consecutive months.

"While disposable income was down everywhere in September, there is clearly a growing divide between the north of the UK and the south," said Mr Clarke.

"Spiralling petrol costs are piling on extra pressure on households across the north of England and Northern Ireland where families are much more reliant on the car to get about.

"As we head into winter and the nights draw in we know that the cost of food, transport and utilities go up. It's our job to continue to cut costs across all our operations so that we can hold down the price of food and fuel and help hard-pressed families make ends meets as prices are rising everywhere else."

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