Further evidence of the strain on households emerged after retail figures for November highlighted a sluggish start to seasonal spending.
The release of new versions of tablet computers, including the iPad mini, were a positive development for retailers but overall volumes remained flat on the month, the report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
It adds to fears the economy will contract after a worse-than-expected drop in October, when retail sales volumes declined 0.8% month-on-month.
Excluding fuel, the total value of sales was up 2.5% in November, compared with a year ago, below inflation of 2.7% in the same period.
British Retail Consortium director-general Helen Dickinson, said the figures suggested that Christmas shoppers were slow out of the blocks as pressures on budgets and the outlook left people reluctant to spend too early.
Households are facing an ongoing squeeze in income with higher inflation in October and November pushing down real incomes.
Hopes of an early December boost have already been dampened with the CBI saying on Wednesday that sales for the Christmas season had been "below par", as families try to make their budgets stretch as far as possible.
Howard Archer, chief European & UK economist at IHS Global, said: "Flat retail sales in November are also a significant blow to hopes that the economy can avoid a renewed dip in the fourth quarter."
The new tablet computer models helped push household goods sales volumes up by 3.8%, according to the ONS. But it failed to offset a 1.5% month-on-month decline in sales volumes at department stores.
Figures were also flattened by a fall of 0.1% in food shopping and a similar drop in sales volumes at clothes and shoe stores. The figures also showed more people were shopping on the internet, with the ONS estimating that the proportion of retail sales online increased by 1.4% between October and November, with the average weekly spend in November at £711 million. Across all retailing an estimated £7.3 billion was spent weekly in November, around the same as last year.