A comprehensive view of consumers in the East of England from Which?'s consumer insight tracker and other data sources.
During my time at Which? I’ve quickly recognised that one of our greatest strengths is understanding what consumers want and need. They are at the heart of everything we do and we’re constantly striving for change in the areas where we feel that people deserve better.
Our Consumer Insight reports are a really important step in demonstrating our knowledge base and our understanding of consumers across the UK. For the first time we’ve produced 12 reports covering Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the nine regions of England which highlight the spending habits, optimism, trust and worry of consumers in these areas.
This is a unique body of work, the first of its kind, which has allowed us to compare trends across the UK. As a result of these reports, we know that more people in Yorkshire and the Humber were satisfied with their household income (55%) than the UK average (50%); we also know that more Londoners felt financially squeezed (32%), compared to 27% on average in the UK.
These reports also highlight how the insights we gain from consumers can inform our campaigning. The statistics about connectivity and rail show us the problems people face in different areas of the country, and so it’s no coincidence that we also have major campaigns on these issues to try and make things better for consumers.
This work has been done against a backdrop of potential change with the uncertainty around Brexit a likely influence on political, social and economic landscapes. This may be particularly prominent in Northern Ireland and could have filtered into consumers’ financial perceptions, spending expectations and their level of trust in certain industries.
In 2018, greater transport powers were devolved from Whitehall to some parts of the UK, resulting in the creation of Transport for Wales, which now which now manages rail services across Wales and West England. At the regional level, this devolution led to the establishment of Transport for the North, England's first sub-national Transport Body, empowered to drive strategic transport improvements. Last year the Scottish Government also placed greater focus on consumer need, launching a consultation on the establishment of a new consumer body for Scotland in July.
We continue to build on our insights to deepen our understanding of what consumers want and need, to allow us to prioritise the areas that matter most to them. As well as being fundamental to our understanding of consumer behaviours and feelings, the insights are valuable to all organisations working across the UK who have the power to make things better for their customers. So they are an important tool for our members, supporters, policy makers and businesses alike.
This set of reports are a fine example of how our mission to make consumers more powerful drives everything we do – and always will.
Which? is the largest consumer organisation in the UK with over 1.3 million members and supporters, more than 130,000 of whom are based in the East of England. We operate as an independent, apolitical, social enterprise working for all consumers and funded solely by our commercial ventures. We receive no government money, public donations, or other fundraising income. Which?’s mission is to make individuals as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with in their daily lives by empowering them to make informed decisions and by campaigning to make people’s lives fairer, simpler and safer.
Populus, on behalf of Which?, has conducted bi-monthly surveys of more than 2,000 consumers per survey across the UK since 2012 to gauge perception of and attitudes to the consumer landscape, known as the Consumer Insight Tracker. These data are weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population, and are published on consumerinsight.which.co.uk. To understand the key consumer attitudes in 2018, Which? has boosted these data to a minimum of 1,000 consumers in each region of the UK. This report is based on a sample of 1,215 respondents from the East of England.
We have supplemented our own data with figures from other organisations to present a more comprehensive comparison between the trends identified in our consumer tracker data and the facts around earnings, economic growth and unemployment. In this report, we have made use of data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE), the Resolution Foundation, UK Finance and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
This year for the first time, Which? has published research seeking to unpick trends in the optimism, trust and worry felt by people living in the East of England, offering a snapshot of how consumers feel about their financial future and the trust they have in public services and vital industries like rail and broadband.
Our research showed that 72% of people living in the East of England were happy with their standard of living, and 53% were satisfied with their household income, figures that broadly reflect the trends across the UK. When assessing their financial situation, 51% of people in this region were happy with their current position, compared to a fifth (19%) who thought their finances were in poor form.
When forecasting finances for the year ahead, 20% thought their situation would improve, while 28% thought it would get worse. Compared to the UK, fewer consumers in the East of England were optimistic that they would be in a better financial position in a year’s time (20% compared to the UK’s 26%), despite the fact that financial difficulty was less prevalent in this region (22% to the UK’s 27%). Conversely, fewer people living in this region were pessimistic about the future UK economy, with 44% predicting that national finances would worsen in the next year, compared to half (49%) of UK consumers.
Beyond contentedness with financial position, Which?’s research also sought to unpick the spending expectations held by consumers in the East of England for the year ahead. Similarly to the rest of the UK, 31% of respondents here expected to spend more on running their car and covering electricity and gas costs. Our findings suggested that these higher expectations on spending could come at the cost of eating out and socialising, with 22% citing this as an area they would be looking to spend less on, along with 19% who intended to reduce their spending on alcohol.
Much like the rest of the UK, our data shows that the majority of consumers in the East of England were worried about the price of fuel (71%), energy (66%) and public sector cuts (65%). At the other end of the scale, just a fifth (20%) of people living here were worried about the cost of clothes and a quarter (23%) about the cost of electrical goods. These figures demonstrate that the costs associated with more essential commodities and services were of more pressing concern than those relating to discretionary expenditure. Interestingly, the level of worry changed significantly based on age, for example concern over mortgage rates peaked across 18-34 year olds (68% compared to region average of 48%). This stands to reason, as many people in this age demographic may be those looking to enter the housing market for the first time.
Trust in essential services and industries also formed an important strand of Which?’s research into consumer perception. Across the nations and regions of the UK, at least seven in ten consumers felt that the healthcare services (NHS, hospitals and general practitioners) could be trusted to act in the best interest of consumers, a trust also upheld by those in the East of England. Meanwhile, just 7% felt the same way about car dealers; a cynicism shared across the UK.
Lastly, our data also provides insight into how financially squeezed people living in the East of England are. We found that 22% of respondents in the region were feeling financially strained, a figure which decreases substantially for those aged over 65 (8%). The regional average of 22% demonstrates that fewer consumers in the East of England were feeling financially squeezed, compared to the UK’s 27%.
Across our Consumer Insight Report for the East of England, we have observed a relatively high degree of similarity between the perceptions and outlooks held by UK consumers and those in this region. Using data from the ONS and ESCoE (Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence), we can establish a baseline understanding of the economy in the East of England as a foundation for our analysis. The unemployment rate in the region was 2.8% at the end of 2018, the lowest level across all of the nations and regions of the UK, which had an average of 4%. However, despite its low unemployment, the East of England experienced a slower pace of growth in 2018, of 0.9%, compared to the UK average of 1.4%.
Half (51%) of those in the East of England felt that their financial situation was good, a figure similar to the UK figure of 49%. However, just one in five (20%) people living in this region thought their position would improve, compared to a quarter (26%) of the UK as a whole. Conversely, fewer people living in this region were pessimistic than UK consumers on average about the future of the national economy, with 44% predicting a worsening economy in the next year, compared to half (49%) of UK consumers.
When breaking the results down by age, more granular trends in outlook emerged for the East of England. For example, just 38% of 30-49 year olds thought their financial situation was good, a figure significantly lower than the regional average. Contrastingly, optimism for the year ahead was highest across 18-29 year olds, where 38% expected their finances to improve. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more over 65s in the East of England felt that their financial situation was good (61%).
Note: Does not sum to 100% due to the exclusion of ‘neither’ and ‘don’t know’
Establishing the spending habits of consumers in the East of England was an important step in understanding consumer priorities. In this section, Which? has analysed ONS Living Costs and Food Surveys for 2015/16 and 2016/17, along with ONS data on relative regional consumer price levels of goods, services, housing and rental in order to articulate the demands of costs and spending in the East of England. These statistics reveal that consumer expenditure in the East of England averaged £669 a week, a figure slightly higher than the UK average of £647, despite the fact that prices were on average 0.2% cheaper than the UK as a whole.
The median figure for annual earnings in the East of England was £25,296, a figure higher than the UK average of £24,006. Further Which? analysis reveals that on average, households in the East of England spent around 27% of all their expenditure on housing, utilities and communication, 15% on transport, 32% on groceries, goods and services and 19% on recreation. When looking at the actual monetary outgoings recorded by consumers in the East of England, it appears that people living here were spending more on costs associated with transport and slightly more on their weekly grocery shop than the UK average.
Household spending per week
When breaking down spending on housing further, average weekly expenditure on rent in the East of England was £105.17, compared to a UK average of £113.85 and the London figure of £192.80.
We asked consumers in the East of England how likely they were to increase or decrease their expenditure on certain goods and services over the next few months. While a large proportion said they were likely to keep their spending the same in areas like public transport and housing, more than a fifth (22%) were looking to reduce their spending on socialising, eating out and takeaways.
Energy was the commodity that the largest proportion of consumers said they were expecting that their spending would increase (31%), matched by the cost of running a car (31%). Breaking down this data by demographic, double the proportion of 18-29 year olds (14%) were anticipating increasing their spending on alcohol and tobacco compared to 30-49 year olds (7%).
Interestingly, two areas where a significant proportion of consumers were likely to keep their spending the same were mobile phone payments (84%) and broadband (80%). This may be because many consumers will be tied to a minimum contract period before they were able to switch telecoms provider, despite the fact that many consumers could benefit from faster broadband speeds at a cheaper price, if they switched to a different package.
The trends identified in the East of England match those of the average UK consumer when it comes to identifying the most likely areas that consumers were expecting to spend both more and less in the year ahead.
In addition to how people felt about their own finances in relation to their income and standard of living, Which? also looked into trends of consumer concern across the East of England. The figures suggest that the majority of people living here were worried about fuel prices (71%), energy prices (66%) and the impact of public spending cuts (65%).
At the other end of the scale, fewer consumers in the East of England were concerned about the pricing of more discretionary items. For example, a fifth (20%) were worried about the cost of clothing, while 23% said they worried about the cost of electrical goods. When breaking down the results by demographic, more 18-34 year olds were worried about mortgage rates (68%) and Brexit (69%) than the Eastern average (48% and 58% respectively). Interestingly, just 57% of this younger group were homeowners, compared to the average of 72% for the region, which could suggest that those looking to get on to the property ladder were concerned about mortgage rates increasing.
Top 5 consumer worries in East of England
Beyond tracking financial outlooks and intentions for managing personal finances into the next year, we also sought to pinpoint the industries and public services that consumers in the East of England felt could be trusted to act in the consumer interest.
Across the UK, there was a clear threshold of trust in the health service, with 75% of people trusting their general practitioner (GP) and 73% trusting the NHS. This trend was mirrored by those living in the East of England, where three quarters (75%) said they trust hospitals, closely followed by GPs (74%), the NHS (74%) and dentists (67%). However, this trust in the healthcare system did not extend to social care, where just a fifth (21%) thought that this sector could be trusted to work in the consumer interest, decreasing to 16% of over 65s.
Most and least trusted public services and industries
We also found that the industries trusted by the largest proportion of people in the East of England were food and groceries (60%) and water (59%), with car dealerships and estate agents sitting lowest in the range with trust figures of just 7% respectively. This cynicism toward the car market was shared by the UK as a whole, where 9% believed that this sector was worthy of their trust.
Our findings around trust are interesting as they suggest that (in addition to other factors like price, level of industry regulation, and familiarity with the purchase process) consumers might be less trusting of transactions they make with industries where there is an imbalance of knowledge between the consumer and provider. For example, a car dealer is likely to know far more about the performance and value of a vehicle they are selling than the average consumer, just as an estate agent may know more about a property and the process of renting or buying a home. This is where Which? seeks to provide consumers with the information they need to deal more confidently in these transactions.
Identifying trends of financial difficulty was a key output from Which?’s Consumer Insight Tracker. In our measure there are five signs of financial difficulty that we monitor, ranging from the least severe (cutting back only) through to the most severe (defaulting on a loan, bill, mortgage, or rent payment). As such, Which? asked people whether their households had experienced some form of financial squeeze within the past few months which might have necessitated them taking one of these actions, in order to reduce the pressure. We then supplemented our own survey results with the findings of the Resolution Foundation’s ‘Low Pay Britain 2018’ report to identify the extent to which respondents’ experience of feeling financially squeezed forms part of a broader trend of financial difficulty in the East of England.
Our figures suggest that 22% of people in the East of England were feeling squeezed, a statistic decreasing to 8% for over 65s. This score was lower than the UK average figure of 27%, meaning that fewer consumers in this region were feeling financial pressure. When contextualising these findings with the Resolution Foundation’s report, 23% of workers in this region were earning less than the Living Wage, exactly the same figure as the UK average.
The figures below are taken from our Consumer Insight Tracker data on financial difficulty and demonstrate how those experiencing financial squeeze sought to reduce the pressure.
The 5 levels of financial difficulty
Note: These are proportions for those experiencing at least one form of financial difficulty, not overall prevalence.
2. The Financial Distress Index estimates the extent to which the households in an area are experiencing financial difficulty relative to all other areas. Areas are ranked out of 100, where 100 is most distressed and 1 is least, and these figures articulate how financially squeezed respondents are feeling.
Which? surveyed 14,138 people between January and December 2018 and asked them about their financial experiences. The most severe financial difficulty they had faced in the past month determined their 'Financial Squeeze' group.
Estimates of financial distress were then calculated for each 2011 Output Area Classification group, then extrapolated down to individual output areas. Averages at the higher level geographies were calculated and weighted by Census 2011 household population estimates.
Please note these statistics are estimates, and are not directly measured from the survey.
3. By Living Wage, we refer to the voluntary rate set by the Living Wage Foundation as a minimum standard to cover living costs rather than the government's compulsory 'National Living Wage’. At the time of writing, UK rates are £9/hr and £10.55/hr in London.
We used our Consumer Insight Tracker data on financial difficulty, together with the ONS’s 2011 Output Area Classification data to estimate the extent to which households in each constituency and region were experiencing financial squeeze relative to other areas. We also sought to understand whether the trends of financial strain could be explained by the financial realities of people living in the East of England, by analysing the figures for median earnings and loan data provided by the ONS.
In this region, the median figure for annual earnings was £25,296 compared to £24,006 for the UK as a whole, while the percentage of loans to average earnings was 2.6%, compared to 3.9% for the UK as a whole.
Our analysis shows that the trends of financial difficulty identified in our squeeze data across the East of England do not entirely follow the trends of earnings and loans data suggested by the ONS data, as only two of the constituencies with the lowest median earnings also had the highest proportions of loans to their earnings. Additionally, none of the constituencies that were most financially squeezed matched those who had the lowest median earnings. Instead, several of the most squeezed constituencies were those located in densely populated, urban areas (Luton, Thurrock and Cambridge), while those at the other end of the scale (Broadland, Castle Point and Rayleigh and Wickford) were the least financially squeezed constituencies. This matches the UK-wide trend of constituencies in more rural locations demonstrating lower prevalence of financial difficulty.
4. ONS ASHE annual gross earnings 2018 (interim)
5. UK Finance data on outstanding £ values of personal loans by postcode sector, aggregated into parliamentary constituencies, Q2, 2018
Map 1: Financial difficulty for Constituencies in East of England
Map 2: Most financially squeezed constituency, Luton South
Map 3: Least financially squeezed constituency Broadland
Which? campaigns consistently on a number of issues as part of our mission to uncover consumer detriment and push for positive change. As a result of our work, we can share insights into the unique experience of consumers in the East of England with both their broadband coverage and the rail service.
As part of our Fix Bad Broadband campaign, we offer consumers a broadband speed-checker tool, inviting people to identify their service speed and enabling us to analyse the consumer experience of broadband connections across the UK.
The UK government has identified a download speed of 10Mbps as the minimum speed required to fully participate in digital society. The new broadband universal service obligation (USO) will provide consumers with a legal right to request a broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10Mbps6. Ofcom has responsibility for implementing the USO, and it should be in place by 2020.
Our map of best and worst coverage paints a general picture of those living closer to cities, such as Watford and Ipswich and large towns like Bedford, receiving better coverage, while rural locations in Norfolk receive significantly poorer coverage.
Proportion of consumer broadband speed tests achieving 10Mbps or above
Which? publishes an annual Rail Satisfaction Survey, a poll that seeks consumer insight on a range of factors affecting their train travel, from punctuality to seat availability which contribute to an overall customer score7.
For train companies providing rail services in the East of England, Hull Trains topped the table with a customer score of 62%, placing it in the top three in terms of UK-wide performance. At the other end of performance for the region, Great Northern received a satisfaction score of 43%. Furthermore, data available from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) gives insight into the range of train cancellations for consumers in the East of England. Cross Country trains had the highest cancellation rate at 3.6%, closely followed by LNER’s 3.2%, Greater Anglia’s 3% and C2C cancelled 2.3%. The lowest cancellation rate for the region was East Midlands Trains’ 1.8%.
In addition to our Rail Satisfaction Survey, in 2018 Which? also undertook an analysis of two months of rail regulator data and found that fewer than half of rail passengers were satisfied with how their complaints were dealt with by train companies. Of the train operating companies who provide services within the East of England, 49% of CrossCountry passengers were satisfied with how their complaint was handled, followed by 45% for Greater Anglia, 42% for Hull Trains, 37% for East Midlands Trains, 21% for LNER (formerly Virgin Trains East Coast) and just 17% for Northern. These figures evidence how different train companies serving the same region are providing complaints handling experiences of vastly differing qualities.
Both the cancellation rates set out by the ORR and our data on satisfaction with complaints handling explain how the rail industry still has some way to go in recognising passengers as consumers, as we called for in our super-complaint of 2015. This is why we will continue to call for a railway that works for passengers and not just the industry through our Train Pain campaign.
To find out more, visit our Consumer Insight page at consumerinsight.which.co.uk, where you can access our latest research on a range of issues, and detailed data on consumer attitudes, perceptions and concerns broken down to the constituency level across the UK.
6. The minimum technical standard for connections made under the USO will be: minimum download speed of 10Mbps; minimum upload speed of 1Mbps; additional quality parameters: medium response times, a minimum data cap pf 100GB and a contention rate of 50:1 (i.e. a maximum of 50 users share one bandwidth)
7. The customer score is based on satisfaction with the brand and likelihood to recommend. Satisfaction and recommendation contribute 50% each to the overall customer score, and a respondent must answer both questions for their answers to contribute towards a customer score. For both satisfaction and recommendation, we apply a weighting to each response.