/ Money, Motoring, Travel & Leisure

The cost of work: forking out for food, fares and footwear

A motorway at rush hour

No matter what industry you work in, it’s fair to say that our jobs take up a considerable amount of our time and energy. But did you know that they also take up a considerable amount of our monthly outgoings?

Research from Santander has revealed that the average full-time worker spends 12% of their disposable income on work-related expenses. That’s a grand total of £66.9bn being spent across the UK – an eye-watering figure.

This sum incorporates a huge range of costs such as getting to and from work, uniforms, food and childcare. The amount you’re likely to pay unsurprisingly varies depending on your location, with Londoners shelling out an average of £3,561 annually while those from Birmingham are spending approximately £1,668.

No such thing as a free lunch

The research found that an average of £410 a year is spent on lunches, which is a cost many would face whether they had a job or not. It also found that an average of £83 is spent on clothes for work – but I think that sounds a little off. After all, if you need a new suit and a pair of shoes every year, you’re looking at well over a £100.

But then we have the high-impact costs of working. Apparently, driving to work costs UK workers £829 a year in petrol, without counting parking fees or congestion charges. Public transport could save you money, but might still set you back £782 a year. My commute from leafy Surrey into central London is roughly 10% of my gross salary, and has increased further thanks to the hikes in train fares at the beginning of January.

The survey also found that one in five workers has to pay for childcare as well: around £3,632 a year on average. Throw in the cost of ad-hoc work phone calls, stationery, and equipment – and you can add another £187 a year to your bill.

We’re a nation wrapped up in our work – and our latest Which? Consumer Tracker shows that one in three are finding it difficult to live on their current income. Have you made any lifestyle changes to manage your work-related outgoings?


I decided at a young age that I did not want to commute because of the wasted time and money, and have travelled between two and three miles throughout my working life. Parking on campus was around £150 per year when I retired from my job as a lecturer last year. I never got round to make claims against tax, which would have saved a fair amount of money over my career, but I did not have the expense of children that most people have to cope with.

I know a fair number of people who have moved home to be nearer their place of work, in order to save time and money.

By the way, it should be ‘stationery’, not stationary in the introduction.

Whoops – well spotted wavechange! I’ve updated the post now.

The 12% of disposable income figure for the cost of work makes it look unfair that so few work costs can be claimed against tax by employees. The self employed fare better. It could be claimed that the basic tax allowance gives some relief against work costs but that argument would only hold water if there were a specific additional tax allowance for employees. This would introduce fairness in comparison with the self employed, retired and younger people living on investment income.

Uniforms or other clothing required solely for work are, I understand, an allowable expense against tax. Travel expenses are partly a choice between where you live and where you work – longer-distance commuting has been looked at under season tickets; is there still a London weighting to help compensate for higher costs? In some cases where work is scarce I accept travelling further may be the only option. Childcare is in some cases a lifestyle choice – having a family and choosing to work. All I am really getting at is that their are choices in what you do where costs and time need to be balanced against reward. Should other taxpayers subsidise this? I don’t believe so.
I chose to live a fair distance from work – in a pleasanter area than my job – with a cost consequence.

Not only is it a lifestyle choice for the employee to decide how far they are prepared to commute, it’s a lifestyle choice for the employer to locate their offices in a location like Central London.

Why is it necessary for any business these days to have a prestige office in the City and force hundreds of people to travel long distances, simply to use a telephone and type on a computer? High unemployment has given the lie to the standard response that it has anything to do with being able to recruit the best staff.

I’ve always suspected it’s so the Captains of Industry and Commerce can meet with their cronies, have a good [tax deductable] lunch and stay in their [tax deducatble] company-subsidised penthouse suites during the working week.

So no, tax payers should not be asked to further subsidise the employees because of the vanity their employers.

Agreed. I would add that most organisations have videoconferencing facilities nowadays. One of the first time I used videoconferencing, I forwarded a bill of around £1000 for use of our university video conferencing suite to a research sponsor in the US. Before I retired last year, free facilities were provided in most departments. If you really want to do it on the cheap, you can use Skype etc.

If you are running a company, the last thing you should be doing is having highly paid staff spending time travelling. In the case of a publicly-funded organisation it is not good use of taxpayers’ money.