A million UK adults went an entire day without eating over the past month because they could not afford to put a meal on the table, according to research highlighting how the cost of living crisis has driven up food insecurity.
Soaring energy and grocery prices – along with the removal in October of the £20 Covid top-up to universal credit – were having a devastating impact on the food consumption of millions of people, the Food Foundation thinktank said.
More than one in five households said they have already faced a ”heat or eat” dilemma, cutting back on the quality or quantity of food to pay energy or other essential bills, while 59% of households fear the cost of living squeeze will leave them with less to spend on food in the future.
Altogether, nearly one in 10 UK households reported experiencing some degree of food insecurity over the past month – defined as skipping meals, going hungry or not eating for a whole day – because they were unable to afford food.
“There is little doubt that the cost of living crisis is putting very real pressure on the ability of many to afford a healthy diet and is set to widen health inequalities,” the foundation said.
Millions of households are under increasing financial pressures as a result of soaring energy bills and rising inflation. Gas and electricity bills will rise by an average of £700 a year from April, pitching 5m households into fuel poverty, despite measures introduced by the government to ease the strain.
Grocery bills have also risen sharply, up 3.8% in January and potentially adding an extra £180 a year to the average household’s grocery bill this year. The strain on low-income family budgets is reflected in soaring demand at food banks and cut-price food clubs.
The anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe recently revealed how food price rises had pushed up the price of the cheapest 500g bag of pasta in her local supermarket from 29p to 70p (an increase of 141%), rice from 45p a kilo to £1 for 500g (344%), and baked beans from 22p to 32p (45%).
The Food Foundation survey was undertaken online between 18 and 20 January, polling 4,200 adults. It found 8.8% of all households, containing 4.7 million adults, reported that they had experienced food insecurity, up from 7.3% in July, when the last survey was undertaken.
About 2 million children were living in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity, and poor physical growth, the foundation said.
Some groups were more likely to have experienced food insecurity over the last six months than others. People with serious disability were five times more at risk than those without a disability. People on universal credit were five times more likely to be food insecure than those not claiming.
“The rapid escalation in disabled people experiencing food poverty is truly shocking. It is disabled people facing the biggest barriers to independence and inclusion that are in the worst situation; how can this possibly be acceptable?” asked Kamran Mallick, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK.
A Government spokesperson said: “We know this has been a challenging time for many people, which is why we’re providing support worth around £12bn this financial year and next to help households with the cost of living, including putting an average of £1,000 more per year into the pockets of working families, and we have announced a further £9bn to protect against the impact of rising global energy prices.
“Our £500m Household Support Fund is also giving more help to the most vulnerable with essential costs such as food this winter, and our holiday activities and food programme is providing healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children during major school holidays.”