One in six shoppers unable to buy essentials, ONS finds

Only 57 per cent found everything they were looking for in shops over past fortnight, say experts

Jon Sharman
Friday 08 October 2021 12:50
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‘This Christmas will be better than last’, says Boris Johnson amid supply issues

About one in six Britons have been unable to buy essential food in the last two weeks as Brexit- and coronavirus-linked supply chain problems mount, figures suggest.

And nearly one-quarter could not find certain non-essentials, according to analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Statisticians who polled 3,326 adults between 22 September and 3 October said that 17 per cent had found essential food items unavailable, rising to 23 per cent of those shopping for non-essential products.

Only 57 per cent of respondents said everything they wanted had been available to buy, while 43 per cent found less variety of items and 14 per cent were forced to visit more shops than usual to complete their list.

Shoppers also had mixed fortunes in locating replacements for missing items, the ONS found: one-fifth found alternative products but a further fifth did not.

Even medical prescriptions have been affected, with 13 per cent of adults surveyed having had to wait longer at pharmacies.

The figures come after weeks of shortages of that have also hit the nation’s motorists. Experts found one in seven of those surveyed had been unable to buy fuel, reflecting recent images of long queues outside petrol stations. The problem was caused in part by Brexit, ministers have admitted.

Days after the government was forced to draft in the military to help with petrol deliveries, Grant Shapps has now said “we’re right at the tail end” of the fuel crisis. Problems have ended in most of the country, he told Sky News, with London and the southeast the only areas where they are persisting.

The transport secretary added that about 3,500 people have applied for provisional HGV licences in the past week.

The ONS published its figures as the winter crunch facing Britain came into sharper focus. Schools have been told to stockpile tinned food in anticipation of shortages, while food banks are struggling to get enough items to hand out to needy people. Meanwhile, prices are expected to rise because of the lack of supply.

Marcus Rashford, the campaigning England and Manchester United footballer, told BBC Breakfast: “They're struggling to do what they love doing because there's a shortage of food and of course it's something that we're going to have to find an answer to, and quickly as well because you know people are out there and they need the meals and especially going into winter.”

The UK is also facing a steep hike in energy prices, though the National Grid has said it is confident supplies will not run out over winter.

All this is taking place against the background of the end of a £20-a-week uplift to universal credit, leading Labour to accuse the government of “turning on the poorest” just as they are least able to afford it. Mr Rashford has warned the move will increase the number of children living in poverty.

The government has previously said that the temporary benefit bonus was “designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so”.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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