UK food poverty: “worst still to come”

February 8, 2022 - 17:48

TEHRAN- Different organizations in Britain are sounding the alarm about rising poverty in the UK amid the increasing costs of living which are being fueled primarily by food inflation and skyrocketing energy prices.

Around five million British adults have experienced food insecurity over the past month, highlighting the deep concern on the cost of living.

According to data by the Food Foundation think tank, that’s some 8.8% of households which fall into the category of food insecurity.

This is while 3.6% of the British population said that either they or someone in their household experienced a whole day without eating any food in the past month because they could not afford food or had no access to food.

This means (according to the research) that a million UK adults spent one entire day without eating over the past month because they could not afford to put a meal on the table.

The foundation also warned that about two million children are living in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity and poor physical growth.

The Food Foundation says the soaring grocery prices coupled with the energy price hikes are having a devastating impact on the food consumption of millions of people.

The think tank says “there is little doubt that the cost of living crisis is putting very real pressure on the ability of many to afford a healthy diet and is set to widen health inequalities”.

Amidst the staggering numbers, the chairman of Tesco, which is the UK’s largest supermarket chain, has delivered even more gloomy news, warning that the worst of rising food prices is "yet to come".

John Allan, who has been the chairman of Tesco since 2015, says the price increases at the supermarket could be five times greater over the coming months than they had been in the last quarter.

Speaking to British media, he says “we're concerned particularly about what can we do to try to protect those who are hardest up, who are going to suffer most from that?”

The Tesco chairman has warned “the worst is still to come because although food price inflation in Tesco over the last quarter was only 1%, we are impacted by rising energy prices; our suppliers are impacted by rising energy prices”.

He added, "of course five percent, if you're spending – as some of the least well-off families are spending – fifteen percent of your household income, is significant”.

Allan also argues that “It troubles us and I'm sure troubles many people that people may have to struggle to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families and that’s clearly not a situation that any of us should tolerate”.

The prominent anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe recently spoke of how the rise in food prices has pushed up the price of the cheapest 500 grams bag of pasta in her local supermarket from 29 pence to 70 pence (an increase of 141 percent), rice from 45 pence a kilo to £1 for 500 grams (344 percent), and baked beans from 22 pence to 32 percent (45 percent).

Meanwhile, energy bills are set to rise drastically in the country after the energy regulator announced its cap on prices would rise by around a massive 50 percent in April.

Families are facing a record energy bill increase of 54 percent in the spring after the regulator lifted the cap on default tariffs to a whopping £1,971.

The energy regulator, Ofgem, lifted the maximum rate that suppliers can charge for an average dual-fuel energy tariff by £693, to reflect the fourfold increase in energy market prices over the last year.

The unprecedented price hike means 22 million households will face an average bill of £1,971 a year for their gas and electricity.

Homes using a pre-pay meter, which are typically more vulnerable, will on average face a steeper hike of £708 and an annual bill of £2,017.

Jonathan Brearley, the chief executive of Ofgem, claims “we know this rise will be extremely worrying for many people, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet”

This is the second major increase in energy bills over the last six months; but it is the largest ever on record.

Experts say, for the first time, the soaring price hike is expected to drive millions of households into fuel poverty.

According to Brearley “the energy market has faced a huge challenge due to the unprecedented increase in global gas prices, a once in a 30-year event, and Ofgem’s role as energy regulator is to ensure that, under the price cap, energy companies can only charge a fair price based on the true cost of supplying electricity and gas”.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, that represent the majority of trade unions, (citing its own survey) has warned that one in eight workers would struggle to afford the basics in the coming months.

The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has warned “millions of low-paid workers face a perfect storm this April. The government must do far more to help struggling families get through the tough times ahead.”

The UK annual inflation rate stands at 5.4 percent, much higher than the target set by the Bank of England of 2.0 percent.

Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, has already warned that inflation could rise more than seven percent by April and will not fall back to normal levels for two years.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents more than 5,000 businesses across the country, says the soaring household energy prices would mean consumers are going to spend very little over the coming months, with a knock-on effect on high street shops.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the BRC, says both retailers and consumers will be facing challenges in the coming months.

She added that the “rising inflation, driven by higher costs of production, higher energy, and transport prices, as well as other looming price hikes this spring, will mean consumers will have to tighten their purse strings”.

Reflecting the growing concerns about the country’s cost of living crisis, a survey of 2,000 adults on behalf of Barclaycard, which processes almost half of the British people’s credit transactions, shows almost nine out of ten consumers are worried about the impact of rising inflation on their finances.

Several charities are warning that government plans to help control the crisis are badly targeted and offer too little support for those most in need.

They say the scale of the shock to low-income households would drive hunger, rent arrears, and ill health, and pile extra demand onto already stretched food banks and homeless shelters.

While the ruling class may have been enjoying their parties in the warm premises of Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdowns, it appears they didn’t focus too much on the desperate domestic issues at hand.

Meanwhile, those who voted them into power are increasingly finding themselves hungry, demoralised, and unable to afford the cheapest bag of potatoes at their local supermarket.

Critics say a drop in ratings of Prime Minister Boris Johnson reflects wider public anger and frustration against a small government elite that represents the interests of the rich whose wealth has expanded while the poor are increasing in number and facing a rise in inflation at rates not seen in the past three decades.

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