18/04/2024

90% Of NI Consumers Concerned About Rising Cost Of Basics

90% of consumers in Northern Ireland are concerned about the rising cost of basics, according to new research from the Consumer Council.

Basics refer to the everyday living essentials such as housing, energy, food, transport and telephone/mobile and broadband costs.

The cost of home energy tops consumer concerns at 91%, followed by food and non-alcoholic drinks (80%), transport costs (71%), telephone/mobile and broadband costs (67%) and mortgage/rent/rates (64%).

When asked how much control consumers feel they have over different areas of household spend, food and non-alcoholic drinks was the part of the budget people felt they could cut back on more easily (49%). This contrasts with energy costs at 11%.

To cope with these rising costs, consumers are changing their behaviour:

• 55% of consumers have reduced the amount of impulse food and groceries purchased

• 53% had swapped to cheaper brands

• 45% had cut back on overall food spend

• 44% have changed where they do the food shop.

Worryingly, over a quarter (27%) of consumers reported eating poorer quality or less nutritious food, and 24% said they had been skipping meals or eating fewer times in the day (23%).

Over half (56%) of consumers said the current cost of basics is having an adverse effect on their mental health. Of these, over half (59%) report increased worry, stress, and anxiety. In terms of physical health, over a third (37%) say rising costs has had a negative impact.

Philippa McKeown-Brown Head of Food Policy and Emerging Markets at the Consumer Council said: "Food is commonly seen as the most 'elastic' part of household spend which will shrink or stretch first when prices go up, or there's a change in personal finances.
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Consumers see food costs as the least complicated area to cut back on compared to an activity like switching energy or broadband provider. There are no binding contracts, and for most it's easy to shop around and compare prices. Plus, food shopping is something many of us do daily or weekly, so there is a familiarity with food shopping.

"However, while cutting costs on food spend may be 'easy' for some consumers, this research highlights it can come at a cost to health for low-income and vulnerable households."

As a result of higher costs, around a third of consumers (34%) are struggling with debt, and over half of survey respondents (54%) agreed with the statement 'I try to hide my struggle to cope with the cost of basics from friends, family and children'.

To meet costs, almost half (49%) of consumers are dipping into savings and others are taking out additional loans (15%) or using high-cost credit like Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) (8%). A significant proportion (6%) of consumers are accessing support from food banks, and 3% say they have turned to illegal money lenders.

Stressing the importance of seeking support, Philippa signposted to our resources to help save on household bills. These include:

tips and videos to help make your food (and money) go further and last longer.

• easy to use comparison tools to find the cheapest gas and electricity tariffs and providers.

• a home heating oil checker to see if you're paying the cheapest price in your area.

• a petrol and diesel price checker which is updated weekly.

• information on broadband social tariffs and the Healthy Start Scheme for those who qualify; and

• help with budgeting and information on safer ways to borrow.


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