FAMILIES on low wages are unlikely to ever afford what many of us now regard as “essentials”, according to new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The findings have underlined a dramatic shift in attitudes over the past six years - with the list of “must haves” in better-off homes draining more out of the household budget.

Spending on what most of us now regard as necessities has soared by 28 per cent during the period - while average earnings have risen only 9 per cent.

So researchers fear that even as incomes start to increase again the poor are unlikely ever to close the gap between what they earn and paying for things most now take for granted. Attitudes to internet access have gone through one of the biggest sea changes since the public was last asked about it in 2008.

It is now seen as a basic necessity by, all including pensioners, whereas most of us would be happy to go without a landline provided we have a mobile phone.

Family meals around a restaurant table are also becoming a thing of the past. Many of us still enjoy eating out but regard it as a luxury .

Public spending cuts have also led to changes. Whereas we were once happy to lug children around on buses, services reductions have made a car indispensable in a busy family life.

The report, A Minimum Income Standard for the UK, aims to provide a barometer of what has happened to living standards for low income families since the downturn and during the recovery.

For the first time, pensioners say that having the internet at home is essential to allow them to participate in society.

Working age people without children, on the other hand, say that a landline is no longer an essential, according to the research by Loughborough University.

The researchers have underlined that the jump in spending on essentials is due to things costing more, not because of increased expectations.

Report author Abigail Davis said: “Throughout the past few difficult years, the people we talk to have held a consistent view of what it means to live at an acceptable level in the UK. It means being able to afford to feed your family and heat your home properly, but also having enough to buy a birthday present for your children, and to spend time with your family away from home, such as the occasional meal out.”