AND IRELAND RANK BOTTOM IN EUROPEAN QUALITY OF LIFE INDEX
THE UK and
Ireland have been ranked as the worst European countries to live in,
according to the uSwitch.com Quality of Life Index. The findings
pile on the misery faced by consumers in the wake of recent warnings
by the British Chambers of Commerce of a pending recession in the
UK. The news that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is running at an 11
year high of 3.3%, coupled with the recent warning that the price of
goods is climbing faster than at any time in the past 22 years and
outstripping the growth in most people’s salaries, will do little to
move the UK ahead in the rankings for some time.
Inflation-busting prices for fuel and other essential goods, below
average government spending on health and education, short holidays
and late retirement have kept the UK firmly at the bottom of the
list - below countries including Spain, France, Germany and even
Poland. Spain took the top spot despite families earning an annual
net income of only £16,789 - £8,500 below the average and less than
half that of the UK.
Overall, Spain fares well in most categories, with low taxation and
cheaper essential goods such as petrol, energy and food. The quality
of life in Spain is boosted further by higher than average life
expectancy, the most hours of sunshine and a generous holiday
allowance. France came 2nd in the index, boasting the 2nd highest
spend on healthcare and faring better than most when it comes to the
cost of goods, taxes, hours of sunshine and the highest holiday
entitlement in Europe (40 days).
The uSwitch.com study closely examined 19 factors in order to
understand where the UK sits in relation to 9 other major countries
across Europe. Variables such as net income, taxes and the cost of
essential goods (such as fuel, energy bills and food) were examined
alongside lifestyle factors (hours of sunshine, holiday entitlement,
working hours and life expectancy) to provide a complete picture of
the quality of life experienced in each country.
The cost of living across Europe
In the past year, Brits have seen the cost of living soar with
essential bills increasing by an average of 9% - an eye-watering
£1,800 a year. So while it appears we are sitting pretty with an
average household net income of £35,730 – £10,326 above the average
and more than double Spain’s annual income – the rising cost of
living in the UK is having a serious impact on our disposable income
and contributing to a deteriorating quality of life.
Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, warned consumers last
month to brace themselves for "the most difficult economic
conditions in two decades." He blamed the sharp increase in
inflation from 2.1% in December to 3.3% in May on the increased cost
of food, fuel, gas and electricity, which alone "account for
1.1 percentage points of the 1.2 percentage points increase in the
CPI inflation rate since last December. (2007)"
Between 2006 and 2008 alone, the cost of diesel in the UK has
increased by 38%. The UK is now the most expensive place to buy
diesel at £1.32 per litre, 20p more than the European average. Worse
still, the Institute for Advanced Motorists (IAM) has warned that
prices could rise a further 20p a litre within a matter of weeks.
This comes in stark contrast to the price paid by the Spanish, who
currently get the most mileage for their money paying only £1.00 per
Gas and electricity prices continue to dominate the news agenda in
Britain with senior energy industry insiders predicting further
price rises of up to 40% this year. This would bring the average
household energy bill up to a crippling £1,467, a potential total
increase of 61% or £555 in a year.
Meanwhile, the Spanish government is set to unveil a “Plan Save”
energy initiative which will aim to cut energy use by 10% over 2
years to reduce Spain’s dependence on imported energy and soaring
world prices. The cuts are expected to save 5 billion Euros and
should benefit the housing, retail and transport sectors. As it
stands, gas bills in Spain are already substantially below the
European average and are the 2nd lowest in Europe. Ireland pays out
the most for gas with the average annual bill coming in at £552,
£279 above the European average.
In Poland, the move to cut the CO2 quota could lead to a 4% rise in
electricity prices, potentially jeopardising their top spot as the
country that spends the least to keep the lights on. Poles currently
pay an average annual electricity bill of £154 which falls £307
below the European average of £461. The Swedes, however, rely
heavily on electricity rather than gas and spend £860.46 each year
which is double the average.
It’s no secret that food prices are rocketing in the UK having
increased by 12.6% over the past year - the fastest increase since
the 1970s. However, it appears the Danes are still paying the most
for a shopping basket of essential food goods. The index considered
items including cereals, meat, fish, dairy products, fruit,
vegetables and sugar. Against a European average price of £135 for a
basket of staple products, the same items in Denmark amounted to
£163.22, while in the Netherlands would cost just £114.10. Brits
could expect to pay £125 for the same basket.
The standard of
living across Europe
Last month saw the
60th anniversary of the NHS but the UK has little to celebrate with
the study revealing that the Government spends just 8.1% of GDP on
healthcare. The Director of Policy at the NHS Confederation
concluded earlier this month that we have been ill provided for when
it comes to healthcare claiming that "some
Governments did not invest enough." It’s our German
counterparts who spend the most on healthcare at 10.6% of GDP, while
the Polish spend a meagre 6.2%, 2.4% below the European average
The British also get
the short straw when it comes to holiday allowance. Workers in the
UK typically only enjoy 28 days a year (including bank holidays)
compared to the French, who receive an average of 40 days, well
above the European average of 33. The Poles work the most hours per
week (41 compared to an average of 37) but enjoy nearly 2 weeks more
holiday than workers in the UK.
Any notion that lower holiday entitlements are a trade off for early
retirement is dispelled for people living in the UK. Burgeoning
costs of living mean that we are retiring later than ever with the
average person now retiring at 63, over 4 years later than the
French and only superseded by Ireland.
Even if British workers were afforded extra holiday entitlement,
they would have to go elsewhere to enjoy some time in the sun. The
Met Office predicts that "although last July was one of the
wettest ever recorded, this July could even equal or surpass it."
So it comes as no surprise that the number of hours of sunshine
enjoyed in the UK is 17% below the European average. As one of the
most popular holiday destinations in Europe, Spain gets the most
sunshine with 50% more hours than the average across Europe and 80%
more than the UK.
In the end, the Irish suffer from the worst of the
weather as the sun shines in Ireland for an equivalent of only 58
days of the year, 16 days less than the European average.
Big cities, big prices
While property prices may be falling, anyone living in London can
attest that the cost of housing in the city is astronomical with the
price per square metre of property coming in at a whopping £9,902.
This means that a 120 square metre apartment would set someone back
as much as £1,188,240 if bought in London. Paris, the 2nd most
expensive city for property, comes in at £833,631 for an apartment
of the same size.
At the other end of the spectrum, the size
property costs just £216,579 in Berlin and £233,721 in Dublin.
Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, says:-
“We may earn substantially more than our European neighbours but,
when it comes to quality of life, we remain the ‘sick man of
Europe’. Soaring food prices and inflation - not to mention high
property costs - are placing the biggest squeeze on disposable
incomes in well over a decade. With below average investment in
health and education, it appears that we are getting a raw deal from
the government for the fruits of our labour. With the global
economy stuck between a rock and a hard place the Bank of England
has already warned consumers to brace themselves for the most
difficult economic conditions in two decades.
British households are
facing huge financial pressure as take home pay stagnates, inflation
continues to rise, and economic growth and house prices fall.
The UK is not a pretty picture, but consumers can help themselves by
evaluating their household expenditure to see where they can make
savings. There are positive signs that consumers are already cutting
back, curtailing spending and trying to clear outstanding debt. As
long as we take hold of the reins on our household budgets, we can
influence our standard of living and improve our overall quality of
According to uSwitch.com, households can save over £1500 in one year
on household bills and financial services through a simple
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Uswitch.com has launched a money savings guide to help consumers
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