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Consumer confidence back in the doldrums

Northern Ireland consumer confidence is in the doldrums, according to a new report.

Danske Bank's survey looked at the financial position of local households and their expectations for the year ahead, with 1,000 people polled.

The results have wiped out any progress that was made last year, Danske Bank's chief economist, Angela McGowan said.

The survey found that 45% of those interviewed believed they were worse off now relative to a year ago in terms of their current financial position.

However, when it came to unemployed people, this figure rose to 65%.

Overall, there was also a small decline in the proportion of people who felt that they were better off relative to last year (a decrease from 12% to 10%).

While the majority of respondents (48%) expected their finances would not change much in the year ahead, 34% anticipated that they would be worse off financially over the next 12 months and only 12% of respondents expected their finances to improve.

Those living in Housing Executive homes were least confident for their financial future, with 44% expecting their finances to deteriorate.

In terms of spending, 41% of people plan to spend less and 14% plan to spend more.

The figure is higher for unemployed people, 54% of whom plan to spend less in the year ahead. There was significant variation within different age-cohorts around their expectations for spending, with young people most confident and 50-64 year olds the least confident.

While the majority (67%) of respondents believed that their job security would not change in the next 12 months, 16% believed that their job security would deteriorate.

Skilled manual workers in particular were the most downbeat about this aspect, with 21% of this group expecting their job security to deteriorate relative to only 12% of managerial and professional workers.

Expectations for savings also took a significant hit this quarter.

Although the majority of people surveyed (49%) said their savings levels would remain the same, 41% believe that they will be saving less in the year ahead and only 5% believe they will be saving more.

Ms McGowan said that there had been a decline in all five aspects of the survey, not seen since the middle of 2011.

"The survey also reveals a significant gap between the confidence levels of people who are either unskilled manual workers or unemployed and those in higher socio-economic groups," she said.

"With nearly 86,000 households expected to be negatively impacted by welfare reform, it is not surprising that low income households have seen such a dramatic drop in confidence levels.

"Welfare reform is a huge issue that will impact upon the lives of many people in Northern Ireland."

She added: "Those receiving housing benefit could potentially have their payments reduced by up to 25% for under-occupation of two or more bedrooms, amounting to £765 less a year.

"The latest consumer confidence survey underlines the significant pressures that low income households in particular are under.

"Confidence is clearly much lower for the unemployed, lower income groups and those in social housing.

"Northern Ireland has a much higher level of households that are dependent on welfare benefits, so it is not surprising that confidence levels in the region have dropped, even when household confidence in the rest of the UK is reported to have remained stable in the month of March."

Belfast Telegraph