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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 12:03 GMT
Is Britain too expensive?
Is Britain too expensive?
Britain is one of the most expensive places to live in Europe.

The Office for National Statistics, in a survey, says that Britain has become the fourth most expensive country.

Only consumers in Denmark, Sweden and Finland have less purchasing power.

Has life in the UK become too expensive? Can you buy more for your money abroad? If you have visited Britain, did you find it more expensive?


If you want a decent education, you have to pay for it

Dr John Insley, Germany
It's just not true that services are dearer on the Continent, as one correspondent said. This is even true for dental care in Germany, despite dentists being top earners. Britain, although a low direct tax "paradise" is substantially dearer. If you want a decent education, you have to pay for it thanks to that wonderful socialist invention, the British comprehensive school. If you want to avoid waiting lists, you have to pay for private health care. Does it not strike people in Britain, that it's a bit queer that the UK is the only country in western Europe with such a large private school sector, but, at the same time, the general level of literacy and numeracy is lower than that on the Continent. Or what of the large underclass on sink estates? These are all hidden costs in the land of lower taxes and miserable public (or privatised public) services. Prices of course are higher, but then the Brits have the dear old pound and not the euro.
Dr John Insley, Germany

Too expensive for the standard of living it offers the majority, yes. The UK needs a major economic overhaul. My hope for the future is that a centralised European government will do a better job of running the place than the sad schoolboy mob that's been in charge for the last few decades.
Glenn Barker, Canada

Perhaps more interesting is the way this story has been spun as about the UK being expensive compared to most EU countries. This isn't about the EU at all. Many countries have lower prices than the UK. The US is the important case to look at. Where we do so we see lower taxes and a much higher standing of living and better cleaner more efficient services.
M Wright, UK

I have lived in New York for the past five years after living in London for the same amount of time. Salaries are higher here. Cost of living apart from property is lower. Taxes are lower here. Overall, I have more expendable income and a lot more and better quality things to spend it on.
Kevin S, USA

Expensive? I pay 50 per cent of my 16,500 salary on rent and bills and I have a cheap rent by local standards. In order to buy a house I need to earn 7 to 8 times as much. I get to eat out twice a month if lucky. In 15 years of working I have never been able to afford a foreign holiday or a car. I am totally disillusioned with life in England and am looking to emigrate.
Geraldine, England

I regularly visit my father in northern France. The prices are much lower than the UK but some of the hyper-markets on the northern coast have inflated prices - to trap the UK visitors! I haven't bought a CD from a UK shop for a year. Use the net and cut the greed out. If everyone did it, they'd soon get the message.
Adam, UK

Yes. The UK is expensive, due in no small measure to huge increases from "stealth tax". My salary is behind inflation, and I am worse off than five years ago, but still tax allowances have been removed and council tax etc has gone up. I would not mind the cost increases so much, but I see very little accountability for where this extra money is being spent.
Phil W, UK

Prices are as high as people want to pay

Jenny Best, UK
People can now vote with their feet. Big businesses can't keep the prices as high as they do for luxuries if people buy overseas or over the Internet. Prices are as high as people want to pay.
Jenny Best, UK

The UK used to be less expensive and we went there and bought lots of things: cars, clothes, antiques, etc. Now all this is the reverse: everyone comes to the low cost leader: the US. The Internet will have an increasingly profound effect upon this, We all will buy where it is the cheapest for the quality.
Michael Rogers, USA

I find it staggering that a single person can earn 35k and still have to "scrape by"...what on earth do you do with your money? I am married with three children, and we bring home around 17000 between us! We live in Essex (not a cheap area) and rent our house - now we only just scrape by!
Jenni, UK

This is an insult to many people throughout the world who have absolutely nothing, not even their next meal

Elaine Smith, UK
Oh poor UK that everything is expensive and that we have to moan about it by way of our home computers. Maybe to cheer ourselves up we should go and use our credit cards to buy some luxury items that we do not need. This kind of debate is an insult to many people throughout the world who have absolutely nothing, not even their next meal.
Elaine Smith, UK

Something has to be wrong when people earning a fairly decent wage can't afford a mortgage but still have to pay extortionate rents to private landlords. At 35 and earning a reasonable wage I have to live in a shared house or pay over half my wages in rent for a one bedroom flat if I want any privacy. When is a government in the UK going to start a building programme of affordable housing for its people. No wonder councils have been financially crippled with the amount of money they have paid out to private landlords in housing benefit. At least with council housing it is circulated back into the local treasury's coffers.
Leah, UK

Many of the comments here attribute the high costs in the UK to that of taxes and duties, this is the case for goods like alcohol and cigarettes, but not really for 'luxury' goods like CDs, Computers and TVs. The high cost of these goods is down to the large monopolies that exist in the UK.
Iain, Scotland

England Expensive? Try living in Japan

Dennis Hunt, Japan
England Expensive, get out of it! Try living here in Japan and you may have some genuine comparison to gauge the cost of living against! Houses here are about 120% more expensive and go down in value from year one! Travel, food, entertainment etc all are more expensive than in the UK.
Dennis Hunt, Japan

The UK is expensive purely because people will pay high prices. Prices in Wales are less than where I used to live in the south-east of England because people here are more careful with their money and look for bargains. If everyone demands lower prices, lower prices will come.
Dave Lock, Wales

I could not afford to live in London

Adrian, UK
I am single, live in the Midlands and earn 35K a year. I work in the state sector and this is a high wage by comparison. I can only just afford to get by and regularly exist for weeks on end on soup to save on food bills. I could not afford to live in London. My brother works in the international wage market that is City finance. He is paid a salary and a bonus. Needless to say he is very rich and can afford the inflated prices we pay, but I suspect that the level of his wage is partly responsible for high prices everywhere else. Incidentally, I recently saw a Civil Service job advert for an administrative services officer in the Cabinet Office in Downing Street. Salary? 13,350. The job has not been filled for some time. I wonder why? Of course the substantial tax increase imposed by this Government has not helped.
Adrian, UK

In a word: Yes! I have lived for nearly 2 years in the UK and found most everyday things either more expensive or much more expensive than what I would have paid for them in the US. In defense of some of the arguments people have had with the US and its "hidden costs" in university and health care: There are many, many grants and scholarships available to students for university education. I do agree it's more expensive but you don't need to choose the $30,000 a year universities, there are many cheaper ones as well more in line with UK university costs. If you get a decent, stable job, health care costs are provided and accounted for in your yearly salary (which is substantially higher than an equivalent job's salary in the UK).
Michele Eckerson, UK resident/US citizen

I emigrated from the UK only three years ago. Not withstanding the recent strength of the dollar against sterling, I still find prices in the UK to be extremely expensive. After only three years away, it would now be financially impossible for me to return to live in my home country. I simply couldn't afford it.
Dave Moss, St George, USA

The cost of living is about 30% less in France than it is in the U.K.

Charles Mander, France
Wine and beer in the U.K. is over three times as expensive as in France. A Marks & Spencer's here in Marseille sells lager; the identical lager in M&S in the UK is twice as much ... why? A Ford Fiesta here is five thousand pounds, in the U.K. seven thousand. There is no road tax here. Fuel is cheaper. Identical food items are substantially cheaper in France. The cost of living is about 30% less in France than it is in the U.K. This applies to the U.S. and Australia too. Not only are we being ripped off financially but also with the shoddy customer service we receive in the U.K.
Charles Mander, France

Britain is only expensive for public transport services, rented accommodation and eating out. After living in Germany for 4 years I have come to realize that the British are just very materialistic with their designer names and processed food - in the end it just makes us look stupid and uneducated to the rest of Europe. But I do agree that with the taxes we pay we should have a much better health service and transport system.
Zoe, UK

The main problem is that the government takes so much money "to provide for us" and then expects us to provide for ourselves. I seem to be paying tax to support asylum seekers, tax to pay benefits even though I get none, and tax for the health service even though I have private health insurance as the NHS is a shambles. I am paying towards a pension I will never receive so I need a private pension. I pay tax to pay for schools when I also need investments so my children get a meaningful education. I pay council tax for services that are subsequently means-tested so I have to pay again to actually use them. Somewhere in the equation I need money for my mortgage and little luxuries like food on the table.
Karl Peters, UK

Scrapping unemployment benefit is not the answer to making Britain less expensive

I find the comments made by Khan, UK both outrageous and offensive. Scrapping unemployment benefit is not the answer to making Britain less expensive. Although there are undoubtedly people who abuse the benefit system, to refer to all benefit recipients as spongers and criminals is highly ignorant. The problem is that commercial businesses in the UK are greedy. This means that as well as making huge profits from overpriced consumer goods, they also pay low wages, making it pointless if not impossible for some people to give up benefits in order to work.

Compared to the rest of Europe, we have a lower income tax burden, but consumption taxes (VAT, duty etc) are higher, making goods more expensive, I doubt overall there is that much of a difference. What makes the difference in the rest of Europe, is that once your taxes are paid, you actually see things being done with them, clean and punctual trains, new roads etc - I'm not seeing a lot of that in Britain - Where is all our money going I wonder?
Malcolm, UK

The simple reason why Britain is more expensive in consumer goods is because the British accept it. If you think you consumer goods are too expensive you have to options two options; buy the product, therefore accepting the price your paying; or don't buy it. As a consumer you have a choice - use it! If you don't big business will continue to rip you off.
Simon Atkinson, UK

My wife and I pay a large amount of tax each year for absolutely nothing

Lee, UK
There is no doubt that Britain is way too expensive. I have been working as an IT professional for a few years now and even though my wife and I bring in a good income we still find it difficult to get by. The Government has done absolutely nothing for me. I have myself and my whole family covered by private medical insurance because I cannot rely on the NHS. The state of the roads where I live is like something out of Beirut (and has been for years I may add!). My wife and I pay a large amount of tax each year for absolutely nothing.
Lee, UK

During the last 25 years I have lived in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Yes, Britain has become remarkably expensive. In the UK you pay far too much for far too little.
Keith C. Sewell, USA

So expensive we've left for Italy
Paola, Italy

I was somewhat surprised to find that a book which my wife bought on holiday in India for 5.30 approx was priced at 25 in the UK and that it was printed in Bury St Edmonds.
Dave Willams, UK

The economies of scale should make us one of the cheapest places to live

Graham Thomson, England
I really can't understand why the UK should be such an expensive place to live. We have a large population living in a relatively small area. The economies of scale should make us one of the cheapest places to live. I've just spoken to an Australian who commutes 200 miles daily by train, costing the equivalent of 8. What would that cost over here?
Graham Thomson, England

Denmark, Sweden and Finland may be more expensive to live in than the UK, but they also have a much higher standard of living. Here, we pay high taxes to support a vast population of people who expect not to have to work for a living. We need to scrap unemployment benefits and replace them with compulsory waged labour. Let the spongers and car-thieves sweep the streets and so on in exchange for public money. Everyone else has to work for a living: why not these people? If they were they were kept busy, they'd have less time for criminal activities too.
Khan, UK

Perhaps our employers simply don't pay us enough.
Paul C, UK

Having lived in the US for several years, I can say that while the cost of living and taxes here are lower than the UK, the cost of "hidden necessities" such as healthcare (in the form of health insurance), and university education fees is extraordinarily high. If you want "free" education and healthcare, (as well as the welfare net), you should be prepared for high taxes, but there should be little toleration for manufacturers and retailers (such as car retailing) who regularly extract exorbitant prices from the UK consumer.
M. M. Zaman, UK in USA

I could never return to the UK and live at the same level I do here

Stephanie Jeram, British, living in USA
I regularly visit family in England and it really is more expensive. I could never return to the UK and live at the same level I do here in the USA (and I am living on an average to below average income for a single person). The only item I saw that was cheaper was locally grown produce!
Stephanie Jeram, British, living in USA

10 years' living in The Netherlands, and I am regularly amazed at the prices charged for most consumables in the UK. OK we pay basic 36% wages tax and social security combined (going up to 50% at higher income levels) but our spending power is overall greater, despite VAT equivalent of 19% from this January. UK consumers are ripped off all the time, no legislative protection allows providers to charge what they like and "Joe Public" obligingly coughs up. A typical Conservative legacy, as I know after Norman Lamont's disastrous chancellorship!
John Trotter, Netherlands

having moved here 3 years ago from Singapore, I won't deny that taxes and prices are high in the UK compared to elsewhere in Europe. yes, I can get things much cheaper outside the UK but we need to remember that the cost of living rises in relation to the standard of living, which in turn is linked with the GDP or the purchasing power among the people. And this is usually set by the income-earning group, by what they can afford with their income. If we can afford to buy what we want here with what we earn here, it may not seem that expensive, as long as we can afford it. If we take what we earn here and look at what we can afford elsewhere, of course, we may all be many times richer than we are in the UK because of the strong pound.
Geetha Mani, UK

As an ex-pat now back in the UK, I can honestly say that the short term profit before all else mentality here is slowly choking us. It's not about competition in the market place, but about seeing further than the next balance sheet and investing in the future. If all private car buyers stopped buying until manufacturers dropped their prices by 20%, that's exactly what would happen. Remember, capitalism is not there for the benefit of everyone, no matter what Americans tell us, it's there to ensure that the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. The only reason we tolerate it is because we all hope that we too will someday be rich.
Bob, UK

Just about everything costs double or more what it does in Canada

David, Canada
The UK has always been my favourite holiday destination, but sadly it has become far too expensive. Just about everything costs double or more what it does in Canada. Back in the 1970s costs in the UK were comparable to Canada. Even as recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s there were some bargains to be had (live theatre, for example) but not now.
David, Canada

Certain things are more expensive; certain things are cheaper. It's as simple as that. Pay for a dentist say in Holland, Germany or Scandinavia and you're looking at a short term loan to cover it. In the UK medical costs are about 20% of the cost on the continent. Any primarily resource-based cost outside the UK is far higher than in the UK. OK. Conceded, purchasing manufactured or produced goods is dearer but any private sector service on the continent is massively more expensive than the UK. I travel all over Europe throughout the year in my profession. People in the UK seem to spend money more readily, more often than any other place in Europe. Most Europeans seem to spend Monday to Friday indoors passing their time in low/no cost activities. Is this the life you seek?
Chuck, Switzerland

I find the cost of living here is becoming a joke, from the cost of property to the price of a CD, how can it be justified? We seem to be at the mercy of greedy retailers, insurance, finance, motor and transport companies. Can someone explain why ?
Dave, UK

Forget the price: concentrate on value

Duncan Heathfield, Finland (ex.pat. Briton)
I live in Finland and spend a lot of time in Sweden and Denmark. Living here is more expensive, but I think it is much better value. I sometimes pay almost double the English price for a beer, but I know that the bar staff are getting a decent living wage. I might pay thousands of pounds for a car which would cost hundreds in England, but when I get on the road, I can actually drive around without getting stuck in a jam (or I can get on a clean train which arrives on time). I must pay more VAT on a computer, but I can take a reasonable chance on not insuring it because the crime rates are so low. I pay a higher headline rate of tax, but education is free, the healthcare system is excellent and old people do not die of cold and neglect. This is not paradise, but on the whole we live and work with healthy, literate people who feel secure about their future. Everyone always pays attention to prices. Forget the price: concentrate on value. Look at what you are getting for your money and then say whether Britain or Denmark or some other country is 'too expensive'.
Duncan Heathfield, Finland (ex.pat. Briton)

If you buy anything advertised on TV you pay a hefty premium. We avoid branded goods and pay a lot less. On the other hand, 80% fuel tax filters down to everything, but which would you prefer - pay your tax when you get your money (unlike the black economy), or when you spend it?
Clive Mitchell, UK

Whenever I go back to Germany I do a lot of shopping. The price tags are almost the same and the Mark is worth only a third of a Pound. Says it all, doesn't it?
Volker, England (ex Germany)

I lived in the Midlands for 5 years. Everything in the UK is more expensive except financial services and insurance. However, if you start factoring in what Americans pay for health insurance the UK starts closing the gap!
Marilyn Crawford, US

Unless you make comparisons on quality of life as well as cost you will always get a disparity

Fiona Morales, USA - British
To simply say Britain is the most expensive is pointless. I have lived and worked in the USA for two years now, and yes most goods are cheaper but I do not have free health care, I do not get more than one week a year holiday, the tax returns that everyone has to do are a hassle most people in the UK couldn't even begin to comprehend. Petrol is cheaper but the engines on these vehicles are two or three times bigger than home. It costs more to employ people and manufacture goods in the UK than in the USA, the demand is way lower. It is all relative. Unless you make comparisons on quality of life as well as cost you will always get a disparity - open your eyes and see the full picture for once. I am coming back to the UK in five months and I can't wait! Britain - you are worth it.
Fiona Morales, USA - British

Where's all our disposable income going?

Alex Banks, Wales, living in Sweden
My Swedish colleagues at work are of the opinion that Britain is too expensive to consider going on holiday to. I personally dispute this (I find Sweden extremely expensive, particularly alcohol), but British workers do have one of the lowest income taxes in Europe. If this is true, where's all our disposable income going?
Alex Banks, Wales, living in Sweden

The problem is that over the last 20 years, both parties have chosen to cut income tax and view increases as political suicide. The revenue has to come from somewhere; hence sales tax increases through the back door. It is even better if they can increase these taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and petrol since they can always justify their actions (petrol is a pollutant, booze and fags are bad for you etc). Unless the British public come out and say that they would prefer either higher income tax or less central government involvement, then this trend will continue.
Mark B, UK

Britain, particularly London, is far too expensive. I have just got back from Australia where the quality of life is much higher, not just because of the sun etc, but because it is far more affordable. If they cut the price of beer, by say half, then I'm sure that would be a good start and I wouldn't complain about anything.
Nipper, England

The price of housing is the major indicator of this position

Andy, UK
There are over 56 million of us clamouring for our small piece of this island. This demand is reflected in all prices. The price of housing is the major indicator of this position. According to my insurers, my house would cost a quarter of its resale value to rebuild. If we take the cost of land out of all pricing equations then we can see that we are on par with other countries.
Andy, UK

Britain is expensive but the some parts of the US are expensive too. In NJ I pay over $160 a month for car insurance - for an 8 year old mini-van and a 1 year old Golf. A 3 bed semi (duplex) in my town goes for over $300,000 and the property tax for that is over $4600 a year. I pay $250 a month for gas and electricity and then I have other utilities. Also I have 2 boys aged 6 and 2 so we have to squirrel away money into a college fund, according to experts, because college fees are rising at least 4%pa so we need to save at least $500 a month. Luckily we have health and dental through an HMO but if not every doctor's visit say goodbye to $100. Cars, CDs etc are more expensive at home than here but are you paying $28,000 a year for college tuition and then living expenses on top of that?
Julie, USA/ ex UK

I have a German exchange partner here now (I'm 14) and she says that she couldn't believe how expensive things were. The price for a CD (album) In Germany is around 6. In England, however, 9.99. The price of cars in my opinion is TERRIBLE. And I intend to get my car from a foreign country when I'm older.
Nicholas Dalby, England

The most significant difference is on my family shopping

Mark, Germany (ex UK)
In the UK cars are expensive, computers are expensive, music CDs are expensive. We even pay more for our holidays and telephone calls . We pay less income tax but it is well recouped on by back door taxes. The most significant difference is on my family shopping, I have a large family and I fill the trolley up every week . In general it costs me 350 DM that includes staple items such as fruit, vegetable meat and bread as well as luxury items such as wine and chocolates. If I was to do the same thing in the UK even at one of the big supermarkets the equivalent would cost 480 DM - and I am shopping in the north of England which is cheaper than London.
Mark, Germany (ex UK )

Yes, the UK is expensive. Look at the levels of tax on things like petrol, beer, cigarettes! Look at the way council tax rises at 10% per year come what may. Look at VAT. When I'm in the USA I can get for a dollar what costs me 2 or 3 pounds here in the UK. We need to take a leaf out of Bush in the USA and start some serious tax-cuts and slimming-down of government.
David Moran, Australia/Scotland

In short, yes. In my case, take-home pay after tax, national insurance and pension contributions is 63 percent of gross. Out of what's left 100 a month goes on local tax and 250 a month on travel to work. The concept of disposable income and savings is a joke.
Brian, UK

Anyone who has internet access and buys DVDs, CDs, Software, perfumes, hardware etc. knows that all these items can be found in the US (and shipped to the UK) for much less than their UK price, even with shipping costs.
Neill, UK

Surely Switzerland must be the dearest place in Europe

Anthony, Switzerland (UK citizen)
Just how do they calculate these figures? I live in Switzerland, but will shortly be returning home to the UK. One of the reasons for my leaving is that everything seems so much cheaper in Britain than here in Switzerland! Surely Switzerland must be the dearest place in Europe, not Britain.
Anthony, Switzerland (UK citizen)

As an ex-pat living in the USA I can honestly say that Britain has been too expensive for years. This is nothing new. I would dearly love to come back home to live but I couldn't possibly have anything close to the lifestyle I have here in the US. It's not just the price of petrol which is outrageous in Britain, it is the cost of food and other items too. There is just no way I could make it over there now unless I won the lottery.
Pamela Mouton, USA - ex UK

Never had enough money to travel to Finland, Denmark or Sweden, so I wouldn't know. What are they comparing, the cost of living, or the rate of taxation? Many overseas people who I have met comment that the cost of living is more than at home (Australia for example). Is it a good excuse to join the euro?
Colin, UK

Europeans and Americans alike all complain at the costs when they come across on vacation

Graeme, Germany
Of course it's too expensive. That's why most people leave, and Europeans and Americans alike all complain at the costs when they come across on vacation.
Graeme, Germany

Yes, Britain is far too expensive, mostly due to high duties and taxes on everything you buy. Especially when one has to pay taxes on taxes.
Pete, England

Regularly my husband visits America. He often purchases books, children's toys and clothes at half the price charged in the UK.
Caron, England

Britain is not too expensive if you have a job and are not on "benefit". This implies, as is normally the case, that prices go up in line with what people are prepared to pay. Since the rich-poor gap is widening and the rich buy the major amount of any given commodity, the poor get priced out of the market unless they fiddle the sytem and /or steal. This is in definite parallel with America whose steps we undoubtedly track like sheep after the "good shepherd". But this shepherd ain't so good and he doesn't know where he is going either . If you want to solve a hell of a lot of problems stop using that "excuse for a moral junkyard" across the pond as a model, think for yourself and worry about people not numbers, points on the stock market, nor yet in the popularity ratings .
James Bruce Reid, Scotland

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25 Jan 01 | Business
Rich-poor gap widening
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