Whichever way you cut it, UK citizens are paying a fortune to travel.
RAC Foundation analysis shows that of the nation’s 26 million households, a staggering 21 million are estimated to be in ‘transport poverty’ – that is, more than 10% of their incomes goes on getting about. When you consider only those homes that run a car (and the estimate is that 75% of households have a vehicle) then an astonishing 100% of households are in transport poverty. By way of comparison, and using the same monetary measure, the Department of Energy and Climate Change calculates that a ‘mere’ four million households are struggling to keep warm and so are in fuel poverty.
On the face of it, the poorest fifth of all households seem to spend the least amount on transport as a percentage of income. But this is a product of only around half of these families owning a car whereas in the highest earning fifth (quintile) of homes around 95% have a car. When you strip out the non-car owning households at the bottom end of the income spectrum then the least well off are paying more than 17% just on their vehicles, leaving aside anything that might go on public transport.
Looking at the figures another way reveals that out of an average household weekly income of £473.60, £64.90 goes on transport, making it the single biggest area of expenditure bar none.
While there has been much in the news about the price of fuel, this is only one component of the costly business of keeping mobile. Insurance costs have also soared. So too have maintenance costs. It is true that the price of both new and second hand cars has come down over recent years but while people can usually delay splashing out on still on these still very expensive items, they rarely have any option other than to travel: to work, to the shops, to take the children to school, to get to the doctors.
Transport has never been a sexy subject but it is fundamental to modern living; it is at the core of everything we do, and drives social and commercial life. When the Chancellor makes his decision on where fuel duty rates might go next, he would do well to remember that.