The cost of living crisis has dominated the news agenda this year, with promises of devastating inflation and soaring energy bills. But what do the citizens of the UK really attribute as their biggest expense? A new ONS study has shed some light.
The study, titled ‘Energy prices and their effect on households’, looks at the cost of living across households and who it impacts the most.
Data was collected from 4,494 households between January 6 and 16, 2022, as part of the ONS Opinions and Lifestyle survey.
It showed that the greatest contributor to rising living costs experienced by households is widely attributed to the price of food, with 87 percent citing this as the main factor.
An increase in gas or electricity bills emerged as the second biggest contributing factor, cited by 79 percent of those polled.
The price of fuel was cited by 71 percent, the third of the three major factors placing a squeeze on households.
The cost of public transport, reduced income, rent or mortgage increases, reduced working hours, or unemployment were all lesser factors in the results.
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While energy prices are expected to rise further this year as the price cap is raised, this squeeze on the cost of food will shed light on just how badly hit the lowest earners in society are hit by cost hikes like this, particularly when it comes to food.
Writing in last week’s Observer, food writer and activist Jack Monroe Monroe said: “In 2012, 10 stock cubes from Sainsbury’s Basics range were 10p.
“In 2022, those same stock cubes are 39p, but only available in chicken or beef. The cheapest vegetable stock cubes are, inexplicably, £1 for 10.
“Last year, the Smart Price pasta in my local Asda was 29p for 500g. Today it is unavailable, so the cheapest bag is 70p; a 141 percent price rise for the same product in more colourful packaging.”
While the nuances of people’s personal inflation rates might be a factor, the data shows in no uncertain terms that lower-income households are more likely to feel the squeeze, particularly when the energy cap rises in April.
The ONS data shows that, in 2020, the poorest 10 percent of households spent more than half (54 percent) of their average weekly expenditure on essentials such as housing (including electricity and gas), food and transport.
The wealthiest in society tend to use 42 percent of their weekly spend on the same essentials.
It also showed that the poorest 10 percent of households spent seven percent of their disposable income on gas and electricity.
This is compared with two percent for the richest ten percent of households.
Gas is relied upon heavily in the UK, with 86.3 percent of homes using gas central heating as the main source of heating, according to a 2019 survey.
Of these, the homes with poor fuel efficiency will be the hardest hit when energy prices increase.
The UK Government has said the cost of living crisis is due to global issues, predominantly the rising cost of gas caused by a huge spike in demand.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Energy is just one component of the problem. There’s a general inflationary pressure caused by the world economy coming back from Covid.”
However, the Government is coming under pressure to do more to ease the squeeze on British households, with ministers at odds over how to solve the looming crisis.