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Real cost of living in UK revealed

Brits not so badly off, according to new research

Twenty pound note and coins

If you’re not getting the most from your account provider, you should take your business elsewhere

We’ve all heard about that place called ‘rip-off Britain’, but new research by Which? has found that prices in the UK might not be as steep as we think – particularly compared to what some of our European neighbours are paying.

The consumer champion checked the price of a basket of groceries and household items, annual energy and broadband bills, and the cost of a brand new Ford Focus with a year’s worth of petrol in the five biggest European economies: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.

It found that although French consumers get the best deal overall, Brits generally get a decent price on most goods and services – although we pay quite a bit more for petrol than our counterparts in France and Germany.

Tesco cheapest

The UK fared particularly well for branded groceries and household items – an identical basket was much cheaper at Tesco than at the market leading supermarket in all of the other countries. And despite rising energy prices, we came out second cheapest for gas and electricity and third cheapest for broadband.

Make sure you’re getting the best price on your energy by visiting Which?’s free and independent switching service, Which? Switch

You can also check how energy suppliers British Gas, Npower, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern, EDF, Eon, Ebico and Utility Warehouse, and ISPs like BT, Virgin and O2, fare in in our broadband and energy supplier satisfaction surveys.

Read the full report, ‘The real cost of living in Britain’, in the December edition of Which? magazine. Which? members can access this in our magazine archives – sign up to become a Which? member today.

European spending

What Europeans spend in one year
Cost France UK Germany Italy Spain
Supermarket shopping £690 £552 £684 £786 £745
Ford Focus £14,334 £15,013 £14,931 £15,876 £18,037
Petrol £1,295 £1,375 £1,336 £1,579 £1,487
Energy bills £1,217 £1,234 £1,761 £2,000 £1,917
Broadband £441 £429 £290 £412 £828
Total £17,977 £18,603 £19,002 £20,653 £23,014

Spain most expensive

Spanish consumers get the worst deal. This may surprise UK holidaymakers and expats who consider Spain a ‘cheap’ country, but allowing for disposable income (a key factor in the calculations done by Which?), it’s actually expensive for Spanish consumers, who earn less. 

According to EU figures, the amount that households in all countries spend on housing – whether on rent or mortgage repayments – is similar, so this shouldn’t affect how much people have left after their biggest single cost is taken care of.

VAT and scrappage scheme

If you’re in the market for a new car then remember that VAT goes back up to 17.5% from the beginning of the new year. This will add £327 to the price of a new Ford Focus 1.6. 

If you’re trading in an old car then you could be eligible for a £2,000 credit under the government’s scrappage scheme, which is due to run until February 2010.

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