David Cameron may well have declared that Britain is now a classless society, but when it comes down to standards of living, there is a great divide between the rich and the poor.
With around 45 people chasing every job vacancy that arises and more than 1 million young people unable to find work, having enough money to enjoy a decent standard of living is little more than a pipe dream for many.
Some reports have suggested that the gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to widen. Research carried out by the Longevity Science Advisory Panel, found that life expectancy of those who are better off financially is growing at a much faster rate than those who are poor. The study found that the average life expectancy of a man in a higher socio-economic group is now 80.4 years, compared to just 74.6 years for those in a lower group.
However, part of the reason for the difference is undoubtedly lifestyle choices. One survey carried out found that two thirds more smokers were manual workers compared to white collar professionals and of both groups, manual workers smoked more heavily.
Food has played another critical role. Obesity has become a growing problem in the developed world but for less affluent families, keeping a meal on the table has been increasingly difficult to afford.
In the last five years, the price of food has risen by an eye-watering 37%, forcing many to resort to lower quality alternatives to keep their family fed. This is demonstrated by the greater rates of obesity seen amongst lower income families – some studies suggested by as much as 10%.
The recent hike in food prices far outstrips inflation and is rising more quickly than income, meaning that paying for food is taking more of the household budget.
The problem is worse in the UK than in other countries across Europe. During the same period which saw the price of food in Britain rocket by 37%, France only suffered a 12% rise, while Germans had to pay 13% more.
And the pain isn’t expected to stop anytime soon; some experts have suggested that over the next ten years, the price of food could rise by a further 40%, around 4% per year.
According to consumer watchdog, Which? the average shopping bill is now £77 per week, having risen by more than £5 on average.
One of the primary reasons the price of food has risen so quickly in the UK is that 40% of the food eaten in Britain is imported. This means that factors, such as a poor wheat harvest overseas, pushes up the price of staples such as pasta and bread, which are imported into the UK.
Core meal staples have risen particularly in the last year, with meat becoming especially expensive. This has pushed many families towards ready-made meals, which frequently are packed with more fat and sugar and less nutritional values.
These eating habits, coupled with the fact that lower income households are more likely to have smokers than those who have more money coming in, means that the gap between the rich and the poor is taking a toll.
It is the multiple factors which have the greatest impact and one study has shown that the four main factors which impact on health – smoking, drinking excessively, diet and exercise – had improved in the general population.
The results revealed that as an average, the number of people who indulged in at least three out of the four above factors fell overall, from one in three people to just one in four. But when broken down further, the results were not so encouraging, with the number of individuals in the poorer brackets remaining unchanged. The majority of the improvements in lifestyle have been seen in almost exclusively the more affluent households.
Although the indications are that Britain is moving out of the recession, the price of food is still expected to remain high due to external factors. And with austerity measures having a longer term impact and high levels of unemployment, the gap between the rich and the poor is likely to continue to increase in real terms, unless steps are taken to help those who are the most in need.
Dealing with debt
If you’re struggling with debt, you could consolidate debt repayments into a lower, more affordable fee with a Debt Management Plan. This could help you to free up more money to help you cope with the rising cost of living.
If cash is tight, getting help with your finances sooner rather than later will help you stay in control of your money.