LATEST DATA from the Food Foundation’s food insecurity tracker shows a rapidly worsening picture as the cost of living crisis deepens.

This adds a growing urgency to the need for government action to help those worst hit by the continuing rise in food prices. The Foundation says this data reinforces the need for the expansion of Free School Meals to all households receiving Universal Credit.

Key findings:

  • 4 million children live in homes without adequate access to food: 26 per cent of households with children have experienced food insecurity in the past month. This has increased by 50 per cent since April, compared to households without children where the increase has been 26 per cent in the same time frame, reflecting the severity of the impact of current economic conditions on the youngest population group.
  • Larger families are worst hit: Among households with three or more children 42 per cent have suffered some form of food insecurity in the past month, compared to 16 per cent of households with no children. The Government’s cost of living support package does not account for household size and so families with children, particularly larger families have suffered. More action is needed to help households with children.
  • Total number of households affected has doubled: The new data show that in the past month, 9.7 million adults or nearly one in five households (18 per cent) have been unable to afford or get food so they have eaten less, skipped meals or gone without meals for an entire day. This is double the number affected in January.
  • More Universal Credit claimants are affected: A total of 54 per cent of households receiving Universal Credit say they are struggling to get the food they need.
  • Lack of money means cold food and cold water: Most of those affected by food insecurity say lack of money is their biggest problem. Now there is a parallel need to cover rising energy costs. 71 per cent of households who have experienced food insecurity in the past month said they have cooked less, eaten food cold, turned off fridges or washed dishes in cold water.
  • Less fruit and vegetables: People living in poverty have a worse diet. While 30 per cent of all households with children said they had cut back on the quantity of food they bought, 35 per cent said they had cut back on quality. Among those experiencing food insecurity, 58 per cent said they were buying less fruit and 48 per cent said they were buying fewer vegetables.

The Food Foundation is calling for:

  • Urgent action to ensure that all children in poverty have access to at least one nutritious meal a day at school by expanding the provision of Free School Meals to all children on Universal Credit. This is the focus of the Food Foundation’s Feed the Future Campaign.
  • Renewed Government commitment to increase benefits in line with inflation to prevent the shocking levels of food insecurity in households with people on Universal Credit and people with disabilities increasing even more dramatically.
  • Action by retailers to make it easier for people to afford the food they need and rebalance the cost of a basic shopping basket to make the healthy options the most affordable.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of the Food Foundation, said: “There are very serious physical and mental health implications from these worsening trends. It is hard for people who have never had to worry about having enough food to understand what it might feel like and we’re continuing to call on the Government to make this a priority.

“We want to see the expansion of Free School Meals to children on Universal Credit to ensure that every child is guaranteed a healthy, nutritious meal every school day, to take some pressure off families’ budgets.

“We want the Government to increase benefits in line with inflation and ensure employers pay at least the real living wage so people can pay essential bills.

“We also want to see measures introduced to make fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods available to those on the lowest incomes, so they are not forced into a poor diet of cheap processed food which promotes obesity.”

Gwen Hines, Save the Children UK chief executive, said: “No child should struggle through the school day because they are hungry. Yet, right now, 800,000 children living in poverty do not have access to free school meals and are missing out on healthy, nutritious food.

“Clearly, this is unacceptable and excludes many children from getting what could be their only hot meal of the day. The current £7,400 household income threshold to qualify is far too low and excludes families who are really struggling. Extending free school meals to all children whose families receive Universal Credit is the right and fair thing to do.”

Genevieve Hadida, London School of Hygiene abd Tropical Medicine, said: “Thanks to the Food Foundation’s Food Insecurity Tracker, we now have better data than ever before on the difficulties faced by UK families.

“Nearly one in five households are eating less or skipping meals, primarily because of affordability issues. This alarming rise in food insecurity demands urgent intervention to prevent some very damaging long-term health consequences.”

Catherine Dennison, of The Nuffield Foundation, said: “These figures represent a shocking increase in the number of households experiencing food insecurity, and the increase among families with children is particularly concerning.

“Analysis by the IFS, supported by Nuffield Foundation, published last week in the Green Budget suggests annual food price inflation will accelerate to around 17 per cent by next spring. This can only cause additional pressure on families already struggling to cover household costs.”

* More information on the Feed the Future campaign here.

* Access the Food Insecurity Tracker here.

* Source: The Food Foundation