Young adults in Britain pay the highest rents in Europe, spend the most on transport and face some of the worst grocery bills, yet their take-home pay is not even in Europe’s top 10 – providing fresh evidence of the burdens facing the millennial generation.
The new data, which comes from the real earnings and spending of 2.9 million customers of online bank Revolut across Europe, reveals:
• The UK is 11th in the salary table, with the average Briton taking home £1,976 a month compared with the Swiss and the Danish, who rake in an average of nearly £3,000 a month.
• Apartment rentals average £2,159 a month in London, compared with just £877 in Berlin and £1,296 in Amsterdam.
• Transport costs are highest in the UK, averaging £135 a month, compared with just £55 in France and £47 in Italy.
• Monthly grocery bills in the UK average £206, the third highest in Europe behind Switzerland and Luxembourg.
It’s important to note the caveats with this data. It’s certainly not equivalent to the Office for National Statistics or the EU’s Eurostat data. It’s simply a reflection of one bank’s customers and what they earn and spend. What Revolut’s customer base reveals is a snapshot of the salaries and costs borne by largely urban, graduate millennials in Europe today. The average age of a customer at the online bank, which says it is the fastest-growing in Europe, is 34. It is unique in having a wide spread of customers across the continent, including 1.3 million in the UK, where it first launched, 360,000 in France, 220,000 in Poland, 130,000 in Ireland, 130,000 in Lithuania and 127,000 in Spain.
Importantly, the data is not survey evidence, but real averages from the bank’s customer base in the different countries.
So what does the data tell us about how young adults in Europe are faring?
It won’t be a surprise to learn that Revolut’s Swiss customers enjoy the highest take-home pay in Europe, averaging £2,940 a month, but only a smidgen above the Danish, who pick up £2,910 a month.
The UK is a long way down the table, with the £1,976 earned by Britons putting it in 11th place, behind Germany and France but ahead of Italy and Spain. The top of the table is dominated by the Scandinavian countries, although it is striking how high Ireland ranks.
In the early 1970s, wages in Ireland were typically a third less than in the UK. But today, even after the crash of the Celtic Tiger, average monthly take-home pay in Ireland is £2,206, just over a tenth higher than in the UK.
At the other end of the scale, take-home pay in Bulgaria (£407 a month) and Romania (£503) are the lowest in Europe. Of the former Soviet bloc countries, Slovenia and Estonia have prospered most, with their citizens enjoying take-home pay higher than the average in Portugal and Greece.
London has easily the highest rents in Europe, at £2,159 a month for an apartment in the city. The contrast with some rival cities on the continent, where wages are higher, is painful: the average apartment in Vienna (ranked as the most liveable city in the world) rents for just £941, while in Berlin (which has rent controls) it is just £877. Yet in both Austria and Germany, take-home pay is higher than in the UK, with the result that tenants there have far higher spending power after rent than in Britain.
Other cities with high rents are in Switzerland and Scandinavia, with Dublin (£1,589 a month) the sixth worst in Europe. The city’s housing crisis has become a major political issue, but attempts at rent control have foundered, with the country’s biggest private landlord attempting to push through rent increases of up to 25%.
The cheapest rents in any European capital city are in Sofia, at just £394 a month, or just 18% of the typical amount that Londoners pay.
Dan Wilson Craw of campaign group Generation Rent said: “It’s no shock that Brits pay too much of their income in rent, but these excessive housing costs are pushing others further away from their workplaces, and this is reflected in the higher public transport costs. But it’s by no means a fact of life. We just have to look across the Channel to see that it doesn’t have to be like this. Our politicians should be stretching every sinew to bring down rents – not just by building more, but also preventing landlords from raising them unreasonably.”
Another blow for the British, with transport costs worse in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. Revolut’s data shows Britons spend £135 a month commuting back and forth to work, or nearly three times the typical amounts spent by Germans, French, Dutch and Italians.
The average Italian has to fork out just £47 a month for their transport costs, while in the Netherlands, a densely populated country with a similar transport infrastructure, the average Dutch person sees £54 coming out of their bank account to cover transport costs.
Rail fares in Britain are by some measure the highest in Europe, partly reflecting the lower level of government subsidy as well as dividends paid out to the owners of privatised rail companies.
An Action for Rail report last year found that commuters travelling between Luton and London St Pancras spent 14% of an average wage on a £387 monthly pass.
A monthly pass for a route of a similar length in France cost £61 (or 2.4% of the French average monthly wage), and £62 in Italy (equivalent to 3.1% of the average monthly wage).
Last year the chancellor introduced a £30 millennial railcard for 26- to 30-year-olds, and such was the demand that the website crashed afterlaunching. But for struggling young workers, it offers relatively few benefits: the key restriction is at peak times, when it cannot be used for most commuter journeys, and season tickets are also not covered.
It’s just as well Luxembourgers are paid well because food bills there are the highest in Europe, according to Revolut. It found its customers in the Grand Duchy spend £247 a month on groceries, compared with the £150-£160 common across much of the rest of Europe. The UK was again high, in third place at £206, but only a few pounds higher than countries such as Italy and Germany.
What Luxembourgers lose on food prices, they gain back in petrol spending. A common sight at the border is cars from neighbouring countries filling up, with the price of diesel currently £1.03 a litre, compared with £1.36 in the UK.
But of all the data supplied by Revolut, this is the area with what appear to be the most rogue results. Anyone who has visited Copenhagen or Oslo will know that prices in those cities are eye-wateringly high, yet according to this data they appear to be lower than the UK. Perhaps the prices tourists pay do not reflect what local shoppers are spending in stores such as Aldi or Lidl.