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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 00:01 GMT
Transport costs families dear
Average weekly expenditure graph
Transport is the top expenditure for UK households, according to an annual government survey.

The average household spends 58 on transport, including buying and running vehicles as well as public transport fares.

Spending on leisure and culture - including televisions, computers, newspapers and package holidays - was the second highest outgoing, with households on average paying 54 a week out of a national spend of 398 a week.

The Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS) published by the Office for National Statistics also suggests the wealth gap between rich and poor in the UK could be growing.

Those in the lowest income group spent 127 a week per household, unchanged from last year, and the richest 10% spent 885 - 36 up on the year before.

Wealth gap?

Each year the ONS publishes a survey on family spending, but this year it has been combined with its food survey.

Some of the categories have been reclassified to bring them into line with United Nations and European guidelines.

Average spending a week*
Transport: 57.70
Recreation and culture: 54
Food and non-alcoholic drink: 41.70
Housing, fuel and power: 35.90
Restaurants and hotels: 33.50
Miscellaneous goods and services: 30.60
Household goods and services: 30.40
Clothing and footwear: 22.70
Alcoholic drink and tobacco: 11.40
Communication: 10.40
Education: 5.50
Health: 4.50
Other items: 59.50

* In 2001-2002. Source: Office for National Statistics

This means that comparisons with previous years, when recreation and leisure topped the spending league table, is difficult.

Nevertheless, the survey provides a useful snapshot of UK spending habits and inequalities within British society.

One factor that affects spending is age.

The survey confirms that older people are generally poorer.

The wealthiest households on average were people in their 30s and 40s. They spent on average 494 a week.

However, weekly spending fell to 170 in households where the head of house was aged 75 or over.

Households where the main breadwinner was self-employed were likely to spend the most - on average 577 a week.

Fuel poverty

For most commodities and services spending was likely to increase with income, with the exception of housing and fuel.

The poorest 20% of incomes spent 21% of their total weekly expenditure on this. In contrast, the top 20% spent just 7% of their total weekly expenditure on keeping warm.

The figures are likely to add to criticism of government attempts to address fuel poverty.

Pensioners relying on the state pension were also likely to spend a big portion of their income on food and non-alcoholic drink - around 21%.

Sweet and sour

People in their 30s were the most likely to resort to convenience food.

The average amount they spent on takeaways each week was 6, with the over 75s spent just 80p a week on average.

People aged between 50 and 64, however, were likely to spend the most on gambling, at nearly 5 a week.

While people in their 30s and 40s were most likely to spend money on going to the theatre, or visiting the cinema and museums at a cost of around 2 a week.

North-south divide

Expenditure between different parts of the UK varies widely with London, the South East and East of England the only regions where expenditure is higher than the UK average.

Consumer durables
65% of households own mobiles
40% have internet access
49% have a home computer

However, spending in the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales was between 12% and 14% lower than the UK average.

Not surprisingly, households in London spent a higher proportion on housing, fuel and power than anywhere else and a lower proportion on transport.

People in Northern Ireland ate more bread, rice and cereals than anywhere else in the UK - 34% more than the UK average of 3.70 a week.

They also spent twice as much on beef, 2.60 compared with a UK average of 1.30.

The North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland spent the least on fresh vegetables, 30% less than the national average of 3.

  The BBC's Jon Kay
"The spending gap between rich and poor families seems to be growing"
See also:

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