The Consumer Society. Lead-In / Reading & Questions


Describe the following pictures in detail. Do you enjoy shopping? Do you spend a lot of money per year on luxury goods?


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Buy, buy, buy: consumers fuel £1 trillion spending boom


Britons are shelling out more than ever before on luxuries, but is it making us happy?

Paul Lewis
Friday May 12, 2006
The Guardian


Gone are the days when families would scrimp to buy a new toaster. Britain, it seems, has become a nation of hedonistic big spenders. According to a report out today, the country's apparently unquenchable thirst for the luxuries of life last year propelled consumer spending to a record £1 trillion.

The research reveals that housing is the country's biggest area of consumer spending, totalling about £327bn. But it is the "big treat" items, those one-off buys we know we should not indulge in, that have seen the largest growth, up 57% between 1995 and 2005. The amount spent on buying cars, DVD players, luxury furniture and, above all, holidays, is soaring.

The annual British Lifestyles report, by the consumer spending analyst Mintel, calculates that the average household spends £37,000 a year on consumer goods. Britain 's total consumer spending, the report says, has increased 43% over the last 10 years. The study finds consumer spending last year was £200bn higher than the government's estimate, in part due to Mintel's inclusion of council tax and discretionary pension payments.

Paul Rickard, Mintel's director of research, said the breakdown of figures revealed a "growing affluence".

"Our priorities as consumers appear to reside with fashionable 'must have' products like satellite navigation systems, flat-screen TVs and holidays", he said. "Compared to a decade ago, we're living in a society of instant gratification, and more and more of us have the financial means to fund that desire".

Holidays are the favourite non-essential buy, accounting for a third of the £139bn market in "considered" spending. The cost of vacations has reached an average of £790 a year for every adult and child in Britain , largely because of the move towards frequent short breaks.


Cars and computers

Spending on motoring has also increased significantly, with drivers paying £65.5bn for their cars last year. Although the new models inspire interest, the report says second-hand cars account for the majority of spending.

Preferences in the home appliances market, another area that has seen big growth, have also shifted. Whereas in 1995 most spending in the sector was on "white goods" such as fridges, dishwashers and freezers, the preference now is for "brown goods" such as TVs, DVD players and stereos, which last year racked up £5.8bn in sales, a real-terms growth of 642% since 1995.

The home computer has attracted the biggest increase in spending - 695% - which the report says is all the more staggering given huge price deflation in the sector over the past 10 years.

Uninspiring everyday purchases such as food, drink, clothes and toiletries are a decreasing proportion of the consumer market, attracting no more than an 18% increase in spending. Occasional items that are neither essential nor luxury, such as books, gym memberships and visits to the cinema, are more popular, growing by 49% to account for 16% of the consumer market.

Particularly popular are hair and beauty treatments (up 56%), household goods and gadgets (62%), and plants and flowers (185%).

According to Andrew Leicester, of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the trend towards consumer spending on luxuries can be loosely associated with improvements in quality of life. "As economists we presume that, as people's incomes increase, their disposable income also goes up, their spending rises, and they end up better off", he said.

But not everyone sees the economic picture in such a rosy light. Richard Layard, the author of Happiness and contributor to a new BBC documentary on what makes us happy, said: "The sad fact is that in the last 50 years people have not become happier ... despite a huge increase in their consumption".



Comprehension Questions


A. Choose the appropriate answer:

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  1. According to the article:
  2. The goverments' predictions of the year:
  3. The priorities if consumers are:
  4. The amount of money spent on holidays:
  5. With regard to the home appliances market:
  6. Acording to Andres Leicester and Richard Layard:
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