Research by Feeding Britain and Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab indicates a far broader group of households, in addition to the poorest, are now struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, often following a loss of earnings or problems with the benefits system.
The findings, based on a survey with 1,004 responses, shows nearly 25 per cent of adults looking after children have eaten less during the pandemic so they can feed them, while half have tried to cope by buying less expensive food they would not ordinarily choose to buy – a figure that rises to nine in 10 among adults who live in the poorest households.
Even strategies commonly used during lockdown – such as buying less expensive food, borrowing food, using food banks and restricting the food eaten – have not enabled adults to become food secure and live free of hunger and potential malnutrition, the report says.
It comes after figures published earlier this month revealed demand for food banks is greater than ever – with The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest network of food banks, handing out 89 per cent more food parcels in April compared with the same month last year, while the Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan) recorded a 175 per cent increase over the same period.
Andrew Forsey, director of Feeding Britain, said: “This survey reveals the lengths to which millions of people in our country are going to keep themselves and their families fed during the pandemic. It reveals also the uphill struggle that all too many of them have faced in doing so while attempting to maintain their dignity, independence, and self-sufficiency.”
He said it had become increasingly clear that a broader group of households, in addition to the very poorest, were now struggling both to pay the bills and put food on the table, exposing them to hunger and potential malnutrition through a combination of low income and isolation, often following a loss of earnings or problems with the benefits system.
Professor Greta Defeyter, director of the Healthy Living Lab, said the findings presented an “appalling” picture of the high proportion of adults experiencing food insecurity in the UK.
She called on the prime minister to urgently oversee and implement a national food strategy that enhances the supply, affordability, and accessibility of nutritious food to everyone in the country, while minimising the need to deploy the many coping strategies, such as the use of food banks.
“These are often measures of last resort and do not compensate for an adequate income and the availability of affordable nutritious food within all communities,” she added.
In light of the findings, Feeding Britain recommended measures including the introduction of a jobs programme to prevent long-term unemployment, a review of deductions from universal credit and the suspension of the two-child limit, and a year-round school meals programme that includes breakfast and lunch for children.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “This government understands the challenges many are facing which is why we injected over £6.5bn into the welfare system, including increasing universal credit and working tax credit by up to £1,040 a year, as well as rolling out income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional support for renters.
“We are wholly committed to supporting the lowest paid families and have already taken significant steps including raising the living wage and ending the benefit freeze. During the pandemic we’re going further, through the Covid Summer Food Fund and by making available an additional £63m for local authorities to help those who are struggling financially.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies