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Families spend more on alcohol as recession hits home

By Martin Hickman

Families coped with the recession last year by spending less on holidays, furniture and clothing and drowning their sorrows with alcohol, official figures indicated yesterday.

On average, households spent almost £1,000 less in 2009 than the previous year, buying fewer "big ticket" items, but kept treating themselves to smaller indulgences by spending more on tickets for concerts, films and sports events, the Office of National Statistics revealed.

Separately, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) released figures showing households spent 7 per cent more on alcohol in 2009. Food prices were 5 per cent higher than in 2008 – and consumers responded by spending 3.6 per cent more on food and drink, the Living Costs and Food Survey showed. It also found that spending on fruit and vegetables fell by 3 per cent.

According to the ONS' Family Spending survey, based on diaries kept by 6,000 homes, average household spending fell for the first time since 2001, down by £16 to £455 a week, an annual cutback of £832.

Transport was the single biggest area of spending, with £58 a week going on running a car or buying tickets for trains or buses. Recreation and culture was next, down £2 to £57 but spending on the cinema, concerts, leisure classes and sports events was higher. The steep rise in energy bills pushed up weekly spending on housing, fuel and power by £4 to £57.

Revealing a sharp digital divide, 98 per cent of the wealthiest tenth of households had a computer compared with only 38 per cent of the poorest 10 per cent. A North-South divide was apparent too: London households spent the most, £552 a week, and those in the North-east the least, £387.

A Defra spokeswoman said about its survey: "In 2009 the trend towards healthier eating stopped and even dropped back a little as food prices rose above the rate of inflation." This year, Defra said, food price inflation had been lower, reducing pressure on consumers to find ways to keep their grocery bills down – "which will hopefully mean a return to more fruit and veg".

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