Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland 50% worse off for disposable incomes

By Claire McNeilly

Families in Northern Ireland are almost 50% worse off than in any other UK region despite an improvement in spending power.

New figures have revealed that after essential bills are paid, local households have £96 a week less to spend than the national average.

Analysis by leading economists found we have just £98 of so-called 'discretionary income' compared to an average UK family, which has a weekly spend of £194.

The figures, published today, are outlined in Asda's income tracker, which draws on work by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London.

It showed that in the last quarter of 2015, families in Northern Ireland saw a 10.5% increase in household spending and enjoyed the strongest year-on-year growth of all UK regions.

Nevertheless, it also revealed that the pace of growth has slowed considerably from the 15.1% rate recorded in the previous three months.

It added that double-digit growth had been maintained from one quarter to the next as a result of continued reductions in the price of some essential items combined with further growth in employment in Northern Ireland's labour market.

Asda president and CEO Andy Clarke said the province benefited from the fastest growth in discretionary income - or, in other words, the money that is left over when all essential items have been paid for.

"It's encouraging to see that the regional picture was positive overall, but with varying contributing factors," he added.

"Northern Ireland again experienced the fastest growth in discretionary income, but still remained disproportionately behind the rest of the UK.

"In comparison, Scotland's growth slowed as a result of increased pressure on the public sector and the price of oil."

Mr Clarke - who met with First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for business talks in Belfast earlier this month - said that falls in commodity prices and a strengthening pound throughout 2015 contributed to higher discretionary income in households across the UK.

"We've also passed a milestone for the British economy, with inflation remaining at zero for a full calendar year for the first time since records began," he said.

"Despite these positive economic indicators, spending patterns remain erratic.

"Although falling vehicle fuel costs are putting extra pounds in consumers' pockets, this doesn't necessarily translate to an increase in household spending."

CEBR economist Sam Alderson claimed families were understandably keeping a close eye on their spending.

"Global growth concerns have already sent oil prices lower and are likely to hold interest rates lower for longer," he said.

"While this should help provide further boosts to spending power in 2016, the uncertainty means that families can be forgiven for exercising some caution in terms of spending any additional spare cash."

In its previous income tracker, Asda said the average Northern Ireland family had £97 of discretionary spending available - £1 less than now.

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