What is the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF)?
The Living Costs and Food survey (LCF) records the spending and cost of living patterns that reflect UK household budgets. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) collects, compiles and distributes the survey across the UK throughout the year. Survey results are used to understand how household spending and incomes vary across the UK and over time. This humble survey is used by the UK and European governments, Department for Transport (DfT), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and of course us, to add depth to the data intelligence we can provide to our clients.
History & Survey Method
Since 1957 a household expenditure survey has been conducted each year in the UK. Today the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has overall responsibility for the survey. It is the most comprehensive long-term survey of lifestyle and spending habits in the UK. The audience is designed to represent the full cross section of UK society that live in private households, with 11,000 households selected for the survey panel each year. Of these about half actually complete interviews. To avoid seasonal bias the interviews are spread across the year. Once a household agrees to take part in the survey all of the residents over the age of 16 fill out an expenditure diary for 2 weeks. At the end of this period, face-to-face interviews are used to collect data on;
- Personal income
- Regular expenditure such as rent or mortgage payment
- Large and infrequent purchases such as cars or holidays
- The demographic data of the household
The LCF covers a huge range of topics related to income, spending and demographics. The survey is published with over 1,900 variables ranging from “Sausages” to “Electrical appliances for personal care, including hairdryers, shavers etc”, and “DIY improvements: Double Glazing, Kitchen Units, Sheds etc” to “Outright purchase of new or second-hand motorcycles”.
LCF data is used to set the Retail Prices Index (RPI) and Consumer Prices Index (CPI) - both of which take a sample of household costs and compare this year with previous years. The difference between the two is that the RPI accounts for rents, mortgage costs, and bills, whereas CPI does not; focusing more on consumer goods. Both of these indices are used to measure inflation.
The government also uses LCF data to estimate national and regional household spending totals. Pay review bodies for the armed forces and medical professions use the data to indicate regional differences in living costs. Statistics taken from the survey are used by European and UK government departments including Statistical Office of the European Communities (EUROSTAT), HM Revenues & Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Transport (DfT). The data is also made available to academics and private business researchers to understand expenditure patterns across the UK.
LCF and Beacon Dodsworth
Beacon Dodsworth use LCF demographic variables to enhance our P² People & Places (P²) demographic data and enrich the data in our Prospex GIS. We also produce a selected subset of the variables to illustrate useful household spend and income figures for the whole of the UK.
We use multiple years’ results to build up a base dataset of 59,000 records. To keep data anonymous, the ONS matches data to branch codes within P², rather than individuals. For each P² branch and tree code we can work out the weekly average spend, and every residential postcode in the UK can be allocated a P² branch code. This means that we can model household spend and income across the whole country. This data can be summarised on postcode and admin geographies, making it immediately useable to both public and private sector organisations. This rich dataset has applications across the business landscape, for example:
- Retailers can use LCF datasets to illustrate market penetration in their target areas
- Local government can use the data to estimate demand for essential services
- Businesses looking to expand can use the data to rank new locations by revenue potential
Beacon Dodsworth can supply LCF data as a basic dataset to clients, however, integrating it with one of our other datasets or tools, such as P² People & Places or Prospex, gives the data far wider applications. Depending on the needs of the client, we can either provide a complete tool or dataset to them for regular use, or we can offer bespoke data analysis and customised datasets as stand-alone consultancy jobs. Get in touch and we will find the most effective solution for you.
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