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Families nearly twice as poor as in Britain

Published 26/01/2013

John Mulgrew

FAMILIES across the north are now almost twice as poor as those across the water, as the latest figures for disposable income show the region's increasingly widening chasm with homes in Britain.

Homes in the north now exist on an average household income of just £77 a week - a drop of more than 7 per cent on last year.

That is a serious divergence with Britain which has witnessed a levelling out of incomes to an average of £144.

The ever increasingly miserable position the north's economy finds itself in comes as the latest government figures show the British economy shrank by 0.3 per cent during the last three months of 2012 - fuelling fears of re-entering a recession.

The latest information from the Asda Income Tracker regarding the severe lack of cash homes are left with for non-essential items - such as eating out or going on holiday - shows that housing and energy prices were the biggest factor in the rising cost of living during December.

That was alongside rising food costs and mortgage payments.

Dr Karise Hutchinson of the University of Ulster - who specialises in retail analysis - said rising food prices were having a drastic impact on homes across the north.

"Focusing on retail, what is interesting is income is falling and food prices are increasing," she said.

"Whether it is a multi-national supermarket or an independent, prices are up.

"That is subsequently eating into our disposable income."

She said the north was continuing to suffer, partly due to the increase in food miles required to ship produce across the Irish Sea.

"In some cases supermarkets are taking goods from Northern Ireland, transporting them to the mainland, processing and packaging them, before sending them back to us," she said.

The latest income statistics come only days after December's jobless figures showed yet another jump in the number of people joining the dole queue.

Some 65,200 people are signing on - a staggering 41,700 more that when the since credit crunch kicked in during August 2007.

With Britain as a whole experiencing a shrink in its economy for the last quarter, Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the latest contraction "has not come as a surprise".

"December's shrinking PMI figures for the services sector in the UK (a consecutive decline since August) were an early warning indicator that quarter four economic activity in the UK was once again struggling," she said.

However, PwC's chief economist in the north Dr Esmond Birnie said while it was "hard to argue" with the latest figures that the "economy is both bumpy and on a sluggish trend" - we should not become "fixated" on the numbers.

■ NOT SURPRISED: Angela McGowan and Dr Esmond Birnie