09 May 2022
Millions of adults missing meals as cost of living crisis bites
The full findings can be seen on our Food Insecurity Tracker
- New data released today by The Food Foundation shows a rapid 57% jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals altogether in just three months.
- In April, 7.3 million adults live in households that said they had gone without food or could not physically get it in the past month, which include 2.6 million children. This is compared with 4.7 million adults in January.
- The Food Foundation calls on Government to take urgent action to prevent further escalation of this crisis including increasing benefit levels in line with inflation and expanding access to Free School Meals and the Healthy Start programme.
- Food banks are reporting that users are increasingly requesting products that do not need cooking as the cost of living crisis bites deeper and families cannot afford energy bills.
- Further increases in food insecurity are predicted over the coming months as the full impact of the increase in National Insurance and the Energy Bill cap at the start of April is felt.
The new data released by The Food Foundation shows in the past month:
- 12.8% 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
- 8.8% of households (4.6 million adults) have not eaten despite being hungry because they couldn't afford or get access to food
- 4.6% 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.
Children’s food insecurity
There is also 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.
Why are we seeing this?
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. 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.
The figures presented from the online survey have been analysed independently by The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The Food Foundation is calling on Government to make tackling food insecurity an urgent priority for action by:
1. Increasing benefits in line with inflation and ensuring employers pay at least the real living wage to ensure struggling families can pay essential bills
2. Setting out long-term action to build the resilience of our communities and our food system to shocks, within a Good Food Bill in the forthcoming National Food Strategy White Paper
3. Rebalancing food prices so healthy food is the most affordable
4. Expanding Free School Meals, breakfast provision and Healthy Start to protect children from obesity and so all children in poverty benefit
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.”
Vic Borrill, Director of Brighton & Hove Food Partnership, which convenes the city’s Emergency Food Network, said:
“The number of meals and food parcels delivered by Emergency Food Network members continues to rise as the cost of living increases and household incomes decrease. We are seeing increasing numbers of people who have never needed a food bank before and getting more requests for ‘no cook food’ as people self-disconnect from their energy meters to manage their money. This is not sustainable, and the situation is desperate. Brighton and Hove’s Emergency Food Network - a coalition of 44 community food groups - is calling for a full enquiry into the role that food banks and other forms of food aid now have in the UK. This informal safety net is under increasing stress and at great risk of failing.”
Genevieve Hadida, Research Assistant in Food Systems, Health and Sustainability at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
“Not being able to eat regularly or healthily has a devastating impact on health. We were shocked to see that rates of food insecurity have risen to rates similar to the very start of lockdown two years ago, particularly in those households with children. Rising food prices and reduced disposable income are resulting in an unsustainable lifestyle with many children not having access to a healthy or affordable diet – this cannot continue. Immediate action and close monitoring are required to prevent the most vulnerable families from falling through the cracks.”
Dominic Watters, single dad from Canterbury, said:
“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.”
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."
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 10,674 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd – 29th April 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults 18+. The figures presented from the online survey have been analysed independently by The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Missing answers were excluded from the analysis. Comparison to older figures is from a series of previous surveys conducted with YouGov commissioned by The Food Foundation. Population calculations made by the Food Foundation using 2020 mid-year population estimates (reference).
Food Insecurity is defined as experiencing one or more of the following:
- Having smaller meals than usual or skipping meals because of being unable to afford or get access to food
- Being hungry but not eating because of being unable to afford or get access to food
- Not eating for a whole day because of being unable to afford or get access to food