The disparity between grocery bills north and south of the border was brought to the fore again this week by new research comparing disposable income in both jurisdictions.
isposable household income was around £3,300 (€3,800) higher annually in the Republic than in Northern Ireland, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
This equates to a 12% gap after accounting for price differences in both areas.
With a break for the border for shopping out of the question under lockdown restrictions, we decided to compile our own price comparison.
Our virtual shop of routine goods on Tesco.ie and Tesco.com focused on buying 15 items that would be commonly found in most shopping baskets, whether in Belfast or Dublin.
The items in both baskets were identical. We spent €82.62 in the Republic and £56.84 in Northern Ireland – a price difference of just over £15.
Some of the price differentials included Ariel Colour Washing Liquid, which sells for €10 (£8.76) in the Republic, but just £7 in the UK. Two litres of Diet Coke costs €2.36 (£2.07) in the Republic but can be bought for £1.59 here. In recent years, Northern Ireland has been the cheapest spot on the island for alcohol. Northern Ireland and the Republic have yet to agree on a date to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol.
A previous report by the Alcohol Beverage Association of Ireland claimed there would be a 38% price differential if minimum unit pricing was brought in on just one side of the border.
Our Tesco shop found some inexplicable price differentials, including a bottle of Gallo Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio, which is £6 in Northern Ireland but €9.84 (£8.62) across the border.
When asked to explain price differences between north and south in the past, the supermarket chain has pointed to higher overheads and labour costs, energy costs and levies on certain products such as wine.
The ESRI report, Who is Better off? Measuring Cross-border Differences in Living Standards, Opportunities and Quality of Life on the Island of Ireland, found that standards of living were better in the Republic than in Northern Ireland across almost all indicators. It was conducted because of increased focus on north-south comparisons amid growing speculation about the possibility of a border poll.
Gone are the days when there was no doubt that living standards were higher in the north, said economist John Simpson.
But the Business Telegraph columnist added that simple comparisons, such as the ESRI study, do not tell the whole story.
“Average incomes south of the border have risen enough to overtake Northern Ireland and are now statistically nearer to the UK average and closer to the higher average EU figures,” Mr Simpson explained.
“As the Irish economy has grown, more incoming international investment has been attracted to Ireland. With support from EU funding for the public sector, infrastructure has been dramatically enhanced.
“The Irish third-level education programme has made big strides in providing for improved outcomes for older students. Institutes of technology have brought an improved skills agenda to places such as Dundalk, Letterkenny, Dublin City and, more recently, Tralee. However Mr Simpson added that the shopping basket examples collected by this paper told another part of the tale.
“Irish take-home incomes are now significantly higher (on average) than in Northern Ireland, but those incomes probably do not buy a much better standard of living,” he said.
“Daily shopping, as represented by the items which have been compared, is dearer when converted to sterling. Of course, shopping baskets usually focusing on food and drink are less than half of the items that would more accurately reflect the wider range of household spending.
“In a north-south comparison, housing costs, rents, rates and utility bills must also be taken to account.
“In both areas, these bills are influenced by government decisions on issues such as the degree of offset through the extensive systems of social security.”
Mr Simpson said both parts of the island can offer today’s generation and tomorrow’s a modern standard of living based on the well-developed norms of western Europe.