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Family Expenditure Survey

Volume 656: debated on Monday 19 March 1962

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asked the Minister of Labour whether the results of the Family Expenditure Survey have provided evidence of distinctive changes in the patterns of domestic spending; and what have been the recommendations of the Cost of Living Advisory Committee about the weighting system of the Index of Retail Prices in the light of the survey results.

The Report of the Cost of Living Advisory Committee which was published last Friday shows that the Survey has revealed some changes in the pattern of expenditure since the Household Expenditure Enquiry held in 1953. The Committee has recommended that, in order to keep the Index of Retail Prices as up-to-date as possible, the weighting pattern should be revised annually in January on the basis of information obtained from the Family Expenditure Survey over the three years ended in the previous June. I have accepted this and the other recommendations made by the Committee.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this latest evidence of generally rising standards in real terms will be welcomed on all sides? May I ask him to reconsider further refinement? Would he consider asking his Advisory Committee to look at the tax content of this expenditure by families—indirect tax content, such as Purchase Tax and Excise—with a view to going on from there to consider whether the total contribution, tax-wise, of certain groups with certain incomes can be related to the receipt of State benefits which have measurable value?

As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, it is true, and I think that we all welcome the fact, that living standards have very considerably improved in recent years. That is shown by the fact that the proportion spent on staple foods has gone down, and this has left more to be spent on items which perhaps in earlier days were considered luxuries but which today have become part of everyday life. As to the second part of the supplementary question, this involves very wide issues. Probably my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others of my colleagues would like to consider very carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Will the Minister tell the House what are the objections and difficulties to publishing another set of figures which could be derived from the same sources but which would measure only the necessities of life? Would he not agree that the movement of prices of such necessities is apt to be blurred by the movement of a whole host of other things embraced in the present survey? As the majority of old-age pensioners can only be interested in necessities, would it not be fairer if we could see exactly what was their standard of life from time to time?

There is another Question on the Order Paper on which I should like to take up this point. I think my reply would be more relevant to that Question than to this one.