22 December 2023
66% of food hub users are worried about being able to afford enough food to feed themselves or their children over Christmas
Ahead of Christmas, The Food Foundation, an independent charity, and The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT), who run food clubs for people on low incomes, have surveyed over 9,000 food club members, with analysis conducted by Dr Megan Blake from the University of Sheffield. TBBT’s food club members have signed up to have access to low cost weekly shopping bags made up of a selection of surplus food from high street supermarkets, food manufacturers and farmers. The survey shows that:
Christmas causes anxiety for those who are struggling
The survey found that 66% of respondents using the food hubs are worried about being able to afford enough food to feed themselves or their children over the Christmas period. Three quarters (75%) of respondents with children are worried about having to choose between buying food or presents for children over Christmas because they cannot afford them. This rises to 83% for parents living in local authority or housing association housing.
Food hub users are living on a knife edge
Those relying on TBBT’s food clubs are living on a knife edge with half of all respondents saying their household has less than £50 to get them through the month after they have paid for housing and electricity. Three out of every four (76%) said they couldn’t afford an unexpected but necessary expense of £100 without borrowing, and 32% say they couldn’t afford an unexpected but necessary payment of £20 without borrowing. More than half of all households with children said they had to borrow or use more credit compared to last year.
Work is still not paying
More than half of all respondents live in a household with income from employment, demonstrating that even those in work will find times tough over Christmas. Most respondents with household incomes that include employment earnings said their households are still struggling to have enough money for the basic things they need to be able to live. For example, 59% of households with some income from employment have less than £100 to get them through the month after housing costs and energy bills are paid. The survey showed that of TBBT’s members, those with children are more likely to be earning, and yet of these nearly one in ten say they do not even break even after paying for their housing and energy bills.
The Food Foundation is calling on the government to include a requirement that the cost of eating healthily and sustainably be taken into account when setting benefits levels and the minimum wage to ensure that everyone can afford a decent diet.
Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager, The Food Foundation, said, "Despite inflation falling in recent months, The Food Foundation’s research tracking the cost of a weekly shop indicates that food prices remain worryingly high, leaving people struggling to afford the food they need. Our Food Insecurity Tracker has shown food insecurity levels have remained high in 2023, impacting approximately 1 in 5 households.
“The survey of The Bread and Butter Thing members shows that, while Christmas is a time of celebration for some, others are feeling a huge amount of anxiety around being able to provide for their families. As we enter a new year, urgent Government intervention is essential to tackle unacceptably high levels of food insecurity, guaranteeing everyone has sufficient income to have peace of mind that they can feed their children all year round."
Mark Game, CEO, The Bread and Butter Thing said, “Christmas is always such a stressful time of year for our communities where families are already stretched, struggling and juggling multiple priorities, caring responsibilities, low-paid work or illness, combined with the increased costs of childcare, travel and energy. These are people who have a lot on their plate. And our job is to make life easier for them. We know that our food service is a vital resource for them, which is why we’re there week in, week out, 52 weeks of the year. The cost-of-living crisis continues to drive footfall, with more people than ever signing up to use our affordable foodservice this winter and many of our 120 hubs over-subscribed.”
Shireen Hussein, TBBT member and mum of two said, “I have always enjoyed Christmas; it’s always been one of my favourite times of year - until this year! This year, money is tighter than ever. It’s Christmas in 6 days and I haven’t a single gift ready. My electric bill is sky high. Despite the house being cold, the gas bill is extortionate. I’m having to find money from nowhere to get to my hospital appointments. As a parent to children with additional needs who are in specialist education, another thing that costs a fortune is travelling to their schools (which are miles away!) to watch school shows. Yesterday I paid £20 in taxis to get my daughter to her school performance. Her class sang two songs. I loved every second of it, but £20 is a huge amount of money for many families, especially this time of year. I am unwell with my health at the minute and the stress of making sure my children have something under the tree this year and a decent meal is making concentrating on getting better difficult. I’m wondering if this year will be the first year I couldn’t get my children what they wanted for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking, not just for me, but there are so many families in the same position and it’s the children who suffer in the end.”
Dr. Megan Blake, University of Sheffield, said “Many of these parents will have to choose between meals and providing for their children this Christmas. This will mean many will go hungry to ensure their children can eat or that they have a gift. The sad truth is that Christmas will be largely absent in many communities because so many people are just not getting by.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Juliet Grant, Senior Communications Manager, The Food Foundation
NOTES TO EDITOR
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW:
Shona Goudie, Policy and Advocacy Manager, The Food Foundation
Mark Game, CEO, The Bread and Butter Thing
ABOUT THE FOOD FOUNDATION
The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on continually re-evaluating opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.
ABOUT THE BREAD AND BUTTER THING
The Bread and Butter Thing runs mobile affordable food clubs, supporting people in 120 low-income communities across north and central England. We enable our members to feed themselves and their families well with weekly access to fresh fruit and vegetables, cupboard staples, and fridge favourites at deeply discounted prices, in their local community hub. Our 70,000 members are as varied as the food we supply which comes from surplus stock from retailers, manufacturers and farmers.
But food is just the start…
Our mission is to unleash the power of food and ignite long-lasting change in struggling neighbourhoods across the UK. We build bridges out of food deserts, bringing nutritious, affordable food to the centre of the UK's most deprived communities and nourish them. We change lives. And we give voice to the people who use us - our members. We are the everyday - the bread and butter - baked into the heart of our communities.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
Sample and population
Population: everyone with a TBBT account. Total surveys sent: 72,275. The response elicitation method was via a text survey through the food club distribution list.
Responses: There were 9012 surveys completed. This is a 12.5% response rate, which is typical for surveys. Confidence intervals are less than +/- 1%.
Data was cleaned, coded, and sorted in Excel for analysis using SPSS software (ver 28.0.00.0). Descriptive analysis included frequencies and crosstabs with Chi-Square measures of correlation. Where relationships are discussed, these are all significant at a 95% or greater rate, although most are significant at <.001.
ABOUT DR BLAKE
Megan Blake is an expert on household food security and works at the University of Sheffield. Through her research, she developed the Food Ladders framework to provide a practical understanding of how community-based interventions can support the transition of people and places from barely surviving to thriving. This framework is used by community organisations and local governments across the UK and beyond. https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/geography/people/academic-staff/megan-blake