Cost of living crisis: Four million children living in food insecure households

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With food inflation soaring, one in four households with children have experienced food insecurity in the past month – equating to four million children.

Food insecurity is classified as households where someone is forced to eat smaller meals, skip meals, go hungry, or not eat for a whole day because they are unable to afford food.

The Food Foundation’s Food Insecurity Tracker update for October 2022 shows that 18% of households have experienced food insecurity in the last month, rising to 26% of households with children. This equates to 9.7 million adults and four million children.

These are the highest levels of food insecurity seen since the tracker was launched in early 2020.

Inflation is currently sitting at 10.1% (CPI), but food inflation, according to the Office for National Statistics, hit 14.6% in the 12 months to September 2022.

And things are getting worse. Food inflation is set to hit 17% early next year according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (Nabarro, 2022), and with winter ahead of us, rising energy costs are expected to hit families hard, especially those already struggling financially.

The charity warns that the cost of its “basic basket” – a weekly basket of shopping that would provide a “reasonably-costed, adequately-nutritious diet” – has risen by 14% in six months to £45.55 for women and by 16% to £49.36 for men.

The Food Insecurity Tracker also finds that food insecure households are more likely to cut back on buying fruit and vegetables. And, unsurprisingly, levels of food insecurity rise in households with more children.

An analysis by Shone Goudie, the Food Foundation’s policy research manager, states: “High food prices along with high energy prices could have a devastating impact on the health of the nation; 60% of food insecure households reported using appliances such as the oven, hob or microwave less to save money on energy bills meaning less cooking from scratch and greater reliance on pre-prepared foods; 48% report buying less veg and 58% less fruit.”

She adds: “Combined with the increased need to use energy to stay warm over the winter, the trajectory of food insecurity levels will inevitably deteriorate further in the coming months. If government fail to act now to support people to afford food, they will be condemning millions of people to spend the coming months hungry and dependent on food that damages their health for years to come.”

The Food Foundation is calling for the expansion of free school meals to all children on Universal Credit as part of its Feed the Future campaign and is also lobbying for the government to stick to its commitment to increase benefits in line with inflation.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that the Food Insecurity Tracker confirms what his members have been seeing in their classrooms “for months”.

He added: "Food insecurity not only has a negative impact on health and livelihood,it also impacts a child’s ability to learn. The food they receive at school may well be the only meal they get that day.

"It is clear that the government must invest in school food and roll out free school meals for all children in primary school to put money back inparents pockets and ensure that all children get a hot, nutritious meal every day.The government must also finally commit to increasing benefits in line with inflation to show some intent in preventing and epidemic of hunger this winter."

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