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Household incomes fell at end of 2012
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that disposable income per head after inflation in the final three months of 2012 fell from £3,780 in the previous quarter to £3,767, while expenditure rose by £4 to £3,608.

Including services in kind provided by the Government, such as education and health, and benefits households were still £17 worse off in the fourth quarter. Household utility bills accounted for the bulk of the increase in costs.

The squeeze at the end of 2012 was revealed as the ONS posted the latest inflation figures. The consumer prices index in March held steady at 2.8pc, but economists warned it remained on track to climb above 3pc in the coming months.

High inflation has eaten away at disposable income in recent years and remains twice the level of average wage rises. However, providing households some solace, the pick-up in prices in March was largely in discretionary purchases, such as DVDs and cameras, while the price of essentials like petrol rose more slowly.

For 2012 as a whole, disposable incomes adjusted for inflation rose by £176 to £15,001 – but they were still below average incomes in 2007. In 2011, incomes were at a seven year low, according to the ONS's quarterly publication, The Economic Position of Households.

Despite the squeeze, households have been reducing their debts sharply. The debt to income ratio fell to 1.46 in the final quarter of last year, a level last seen n 2004, as households paid down their debts and incomes slowly climbed. The ratio peaked at 1.75 in the first quarter of 2008, just before the recession struck.

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