Who spends the most on beer?

And other questions, answered by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has released March's edition of its Focus on Prices and Spending, which contains a fascinating cross national comparison of spending habits between four countries: the US, UK, Canada and Japan.

Some conclusions are precisely what you would expect. The average American spends 6.9 per cent of their total out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare, over four times the average Brit, who spends 1.4 per cent. Canada and Japan lie in the middle, with 4.1 and 4.3 per cent respectively.

The Bureau does point out that not all of this discrepancy is down to wonderful NHS versus evil private providers:

The health care share for the United States may be higher because in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan medical costs are paid indirectly through nationalized health care options, and medical costs paid indirectly are not included in out-of-pocket health care expenditures.

Although they fail to mention that the US does also have a considerable amount of medical costs paid indirectly, in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and tax deductions on employer purchased insurance. In fact, the US's public expenditure is almost as high as the UK's.

Another unsurprising finding is amount spent on booze. Guess who is number one? That's right; binge Britain.

Expenditure on alcohol is 4.8 per cent in the UK, compared to 1.8 per cent in the US, 1.6 per cent in Japan, and 3.1 per cent in Canada. Crucially, however, these figures measure expenditure, not consumption. VAT in the UK is higher than any state sales tax, and we also have particularly high alcohol duty on top of that, which may mean that alcohol consumption isn't that much higher here than Canada. It does seem like an inescapable conclusion that we drink more than the US, though.

For other categories, the findings are more counter intuitive. On housing, the Bureau writes:

The United States had the highest housing expenditure share, 29.3 percent of total expenditures in 2009. The United Kingdom and Canada followed, with 24.1 percent and 24.0 percent, respectively. Housing was the largest expenditure component in all three countries. Japan had the lowest housing share, 21.6 percent, of the four countries and was the only country to spend more on food than housing.

Given the USA has vast tracts of land where housing is cheaper than anything comparable in Britain, this seems surprising - except that in many of those places, wages are comparably lower. Additionally, Japan is famous for having some of the most expensive prices per acre in the developed world, with some school playing fields being worth more than the total everything else owned by the school. As ever, there are more questions than answers.

On food:

Japan's consumers spent 21.8 percent of their total expenditures on food in 2009. Of total spending on food in Japan, 21.4 percent was for food outside the home. The United Kingdom had the second-highest share: 19.9 percent of total expenditures on food. Canada, with 14.8 percent, and the United States, with 14.0 percent had the lowest food expenditure shares among the countries studied.

Japan also had the highest ratio of spending on food at home versus away from home, with over 3.5 times as much spending on home cooking as restaurants, cafes and take-aways. The US was the lowest, with a ratio of just 1.4, and the UK lay in the middle of the two, spending just over twice as much on food at home as out.

One final statistic, presented without comment: the average Briton spends 15 per cent of their total expenditure on "culture/entertainment, and recreation", compared to just 6 per cent in America, 8 per cent in Canada, and 11 per cent in Japan.

Hat tip to Brad Plumer of the Washington Post

Rick Santorum drinks a craft beer in Wisconsin. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.