25/11/2020 – Fortnightly round-up
The UK’s economy continues to be impacted by the effects of Covid-19. Although data released in November by the ONS found that the UK officially exited the technical recession in the last quarter, growth slowed in September. The UK’s economy grew by 15.5% between July to September as the economy reopened following the Spring’s lockdown, however, growth was weaker in September than in the preceding months, while the country’s economy is still 8.2% smaller than before the start of the pandemic.
The sluggish economy in conjunction with Brexit has raised fears within the food sector of rising prices. An article in the Grocer warned that food prices may come under pressure in the coming months as widespread increases in commodity costs put pressure on margins. Wheat, sunflower oil and soybeans are among the ingredients that have seen significant price increases in recent months. Meanwhile, exports of Scottish red meat and offal have fallen by almost 8% due to Covid-19 according to new data from Scottish red meat levy board QMS, who put the drop down to “the near-closure of export markets for a period in mid-to-late March… with export sales destined for the foodservice sector severely disrupted.”
Although the majority of these price increases have not yet filtered through to consumers, the latest Consumer Price Index data released in November found that fruit and food prices rose during October. The 12-month inflation rate as measured by the CPI was 0.7% in October 2020, up from 0.5% in September. Analysis from the Food Foundation shows that the retail price of fruit rose 1.15% in October compared to the preceding month, with September also seeing a 1.62% increase in the cost of fruit compared to August. The price of those vegetables monitored by the Food Foundation decreased by 1.34% in October compared to September, but this excludes tubers and potatoes, which saw an increase of 0.82% between September and October. Consumers may have been protected by the pressures on food prices thus far by an increase in retail price promotions, with the Grocer finding that the majority of supermarkets have returned product range counts and price promotions back to near pre-pandemic levels.
The indirect effects of Covid-19 on the UK’s health, in part due to the economic impact on ‘business as usual’, continue to be felt. This month the British Dental Association warned of a looming ‘oral health crisis’, with 19 million fewer treatments provided in England since March compared to the same period of time last year, while the British Heart Foundation released data showing that there have been 4,622 more deaths from heart disease since the start of the pandemic than would usually be expected.
A study of more than 27,000 people by the University of Glasgow also suggests a rise in binge drinking; from 10.8% in 2017-19 to 16.2% during lockdown – with a rise in all age groups except for those under 25. This does not bode well for the UK’s health care system, with the NHS already struggling to work through a backlog of routine operations and cases following Spring’s lockdown. The latest statistics from the NHS show that the number of people waiting over a year for hospital treatment in England has hit its highest levels since 2008, with almost 4.4 million now on the waiting list. Moreover, the effects of Covid-19 do not appear to have been felt equally. The Northern Health Science Alliance found the mortality rate, even after factoring in deprivation, ages and ethnicity, was worst in the north of England, calculating that an additional 57.7 people per 100,000 population died between March and July.