Rapid Rise in Food Poverty Leaves Millions Missing Meals, Warns The Food Foundation

New data released today by the Food Foundation reveals a National Food Crisis, with a 57% jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or skipping meals in just three months.

In addition, the rising costs of energy has seen food banks report that users are increasingly asking for ready to eat products as the cost of living rises means they often cannot afford to cook the food provided.

Rising Food insecurity for Families 

The new data released by The Food Foundation today shows that in the past month:

  • 8% of households (6.8 million adults) have had smaller meals than usual or skipped meals because they couldn’t afford or get access to food
  • 8% of households (4.6 million adults) have not eaten despite being hungry because they couldn’t afford or get access to food
  • 6% of households (2.4 million adults) have not eaten for a whole day because they couldn’t afford or get access to food

In total, 13.8% of households (7.3 million adults) had one or more of these experiences in the past month, with the report also revealing a sharp increase in the proportion of households with children experiencing food insecurity in the past month at 17.2% up from 12.1% in January 2022. This represents a total of 2.6 million children aged under 18 who live in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at high risk of suffering from diet-related diseases.

Being able to afford food is affected by other financial demands on households, and food is often the first expenditure to be cut when disposable income is tight.

Kathleen Kerridge, Mum of Four from Portsmouth said:

“I’m finding as we become enslaved to our pre-payment meters for gas and electricity, what food we buy depends solely on how much money we have left over after bills. This means we are having to change our diet, and are having to forgo fresh fruit and veg as prices climb ever higher. I’m worried; there’s only so many workable hours in a week, and I can’t keep up with the cost of living. It’s a terrifying prospect, not knowing if I’ll still be able to afford to keep everyone in my household fed at all by next month, let alone be able to feed them healthy nutritious food.”

Dominic Watters,  Single Dad from Canterbury added:

‘The last few months have been really tough.   I’ve had days where only my daughter ate, and I’ve had her leftovers, if anything at all”

What is causing the sudden rise in food poverty?

Families have been facing increasing pressure on their disposable income in recent months because of the rise in energy bills, petrol prices and background inflation, as well as the cost of food. Benefit levels were uprated by 3.1% in April, a rise far below the March inflation level of 7%. This means many families will simply not have sufficient income to afford enough food.    Soaring food prices (up 5.9% in the past 12 months – reference) are making it increasingly difficult for families to afford the food they need. There is also concern that prices of ‘budget’ ranges of staple foods may have increased at a faster rate, so the impact on low-income families may be worse.

The increasing cost of living and rising food prices are likely to mean that people become more reliant on lower cost foods which tend to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, further increasing obesity and other diet-related diseases. Reducing food insecurity is essential if the Government is to achieve its Levelling Up mission to improve healthy life expectancy and reduce health disparities.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation said

“The extremely rapid rise in food insecurity since January points to a catastrophic situation for families. Food insecurity puts families under extreme mental stress and forces people to survive on the cheapest calories which lead to health problems. The situation is rapidly turning from an economic crisis to a health crisis.  Food banks cannot possibly be expected to solve this.  The government needs to realise the boat is sinking for many families and it needs to be fixed. Bailing out with emergency food parcels is not going to work.”

Prof Sir Michael Marmot, University College London said

“Food is basic, but so is security. Both are vital to good health. If 1 household in 7 is food insecure, society is failing in a fundamental way. These figures on food insecurity are all the more chilling because the problem is solvable, but far from being solved it is getting worse.”

The Food Foundation has called on the UK Government to make tackling food insecurity an urgent priority for action, calling for:

  • Benefits to be increased in line with inflation and ensuring that employers pay the real living wage
  • Setting out plans to improve the resilience of communities and the UK food system in the forthcoming National Food Strategy White Paper
  • Food prices to be rebalanced so that healthy food is more affordable
  • The expansion of free school meals, breakfast provision and Healthy Start to protect children from obesity and so all children in poverty benefit

Benefit payments have reached the lowest point in 50 years

Bridgend MS: Bridgend and Porthcawl MS, Sarah Murphy, echoed the calls for action, saying:

“The Conservative cost-of-living crisis created by the UK Government has caused people in our communities to face the ultimate hardship. Nobody in our society should be faced with the decision of whether to eat or not because of financial insecurity.

Ms. Murphy continues:

“Benefit payments have reached the lowest point in 50 years, three quarters of households are worse off than they were a year ago. We are facing an energy crisis, inflation is rising and people in Bridgend are suffering.   The Food Foundation is calling for an expansion in free school meals. I am pleased that in Wales, this will already be the case for all primary school children under the Welsh Labour Government roll out.

“I stand with The Food Foundation. We must call on the UK Government to play their part in tackling the crisis of food insecurity, by providing a benefits system that ensures struggling families can pay essential bills and put food on the table, at the very least. “