The Office for National Statistics has released its Family Spending survey, showing that household expenditure fell last year for the first time in a decade, as cash-strapped families reined it back in the face of the recession.
The ONS found that last year the avearage British family was busy buying fewer clothes, doing less travelling, and investing in fewer mortgages. The average weekly spend fell from £471 a week in 2008 to £455. We spent £58.40 a week on transport – down 8% on the previous year; while spending on clothing and household goods both hit record low – at £20.90 and £27.90 a week respectively.
Still, it’s perhaps useful to have a body as comprehensive as the ONS confirming it, especially when it was the first decline in average UK household spend since the current method of recording was introduced in 2001-02.
All of which will be good fodder for the number bods. But the problem with backwards-looking surveys like this in the information age is that that they already appear more like history than real-time information. Rather like one of those reconstructive historical documentaries, albeit one that only goes back one year rather than a hundred. Which is a perhaps a service that may itself become of more use given increasingly short attention spans.
Plus it's not really telling us anything we don't know. In 2009 Britain was suffering its worst economic downturn in decades, so it’s not exactly a surprise that spending dropped. That said, perhops it's not really the job of the ONS to tell us news. It's more their role to give us the reality check - to confirm that what we thought was happening was actually the case.
The ONS isn’t the only body that’s been cooking up food stats from last year's leftovers. Defra has released findings of its own, the Family Food 2009 report, which shows how higher food prices affected our spending that year.
Food prices were on average 5% higher in 2009 than in 2008, and consumers responded by spending 3.6% more on food and drink. We also bought more booze – equivalent to 7.7% higher alcohol intake. At least that's a handy reminder we can all duly ignore in the run-up to Christmas.
Fingers crossed, things seem to be on the up now. It'd be interesting to know what a year of rather less dismal economic news, plus increasingly brisk inflation, has done to family spending through the course of 2010. Problem is we'll have to wait till next year to find out...