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Latest British 'family spending' data raises questions about true economic strength
February 16, 2017 / 11:27 AM / 7 months ago

Latest British 'family spending' data raises questions about true economic strength

A Poundland employee checks products in a store in London, Britain November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo - RTSHOJP

LONDON (Reuters) - British household spending barely rose in the year to the end of March 2016 and was around 5 percent below the level before the financial crisis, an official survey showed on Thursday, suggesting a much more muted picture than previous data.

The figures, though from early last year, may revive the debate about living standards in Britain, nearly 10 years on from the start of the financial crisis. They come when inflation is beginning to pick up sharply following the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

The average household spent 529 pounds a week, excluding mortgage interest payments, a marginal rise in inflation-adjusted terms from 527 pounds in 2014/15 and below a peak of 555 pounds 10 years earlier, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday.

By contrast, official data used to calculate British gross domestic product has shown household spending growing by 2.7 percent in real terms in the same period - and then maintaining that pace through the rest of 2016.

Consumer spending has driven Britain’s economy since June’s vote to leave the European Union, and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has expressed doubts about whether this will persist as inflation looks set to rise faster than wages.

FILE PHOTO - Shoppers cross the road in Oxford Street, in London, Britain August 14, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

Thursday’s annual “family spending” survey from the ONS may raise questions about the true strength of Britain’s recovery from the global financial crisis.

The survey is calculated differently to the household spending data used in GDP figures. It relies on households filling out diaries listing their weekly spending - leading to known issues such as under-reporting of the amount spent on alcohol for home consumption compared with the volume of alcohol sold by retailers.

Last year the average household said it spent 8 pounds a week on alcohol to consume at home - roughly the price of two cheap bottles of wine.

Inflation adjustments also differ between the GDP data and the family spending survey, as does the treatment of purchases such as second-hand cars.

Thursday’s report showed spending on housing, clothing, communication and recreation and culture were all above pre-financial crisis levels. Spending on food, restaurants, transport and alcohol and tobacco were down - the last category reflecting the fall in the number of smokers over 10 years.

Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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