Food insecurity estimated to affect 4 million children as food costs rise

New data estimates that food insecurity affected over four million children in the UK last month. The Food Foundation’s research indicates that a quarter of all UK households with children skipped meals in September.

Since the turn of the year, with rising inflation causing food prices to drastically increase, the number of people skipping meals or going hungry more than doubled, rising to over 25 per cent of all households with children, according to the YouGov polling. This spike surpasses the level of need at the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Around a fifth of families surveyed had reduced the size of their meals or skipped at least one meal altogether due to food insecurity over the past month. Over ten per cent had been unable to eat despite being hungry, and six per cent of families reported not eating for an entire day. Around half of food insecure households also reported cutting back on buying fruit and vegetables.

Rapid increases in energy prices continue to affect food insecure households, too, with more than four in ten of those surveyed reporting eating their meals cold and two-thirds cutting back on using appliances to limit the cost of their energy bills. Almost a fifth of food insecure households were washing their dishes in cold water.

The survey revealed that the rising cost of food has affected larger families the most. Of homes with three or more children, almost half – 42 per cent – had missed meals compared to 25 per cent of families with two or fewer children, and 16 per cent of homes without children.

The Office for National Statistics’ latest grocery price analysis shows that the price of the lowest cost items in supermarkets in September continue to rise at a rate higher than inflation. Essentials such as vegetable oil increased by 46 per cent to 80p per litre since April 2021, while pasta has increased in price by 60 per cent, and tea by 46 per cent. Other significant increases included bread (37%), milk (29%), and instant coffee (19%).

The Food Foundation data suggests that 9.7 million adults or 18.4 per cent of households have cut back on regular meals to deal with the rise in living costs, with those affected the most likely living in the neighbourhoods experiencing the sharpest health inequalities. Households with people with a severely limiting disability, already facing life expectancies more than twenty years shorter than average, experienced food insecurity at a rate of 45 per cent last month, increasing their chances of falling further into ill health.

Over half of households receiving Universal Credit have experienced food insecurity within the past month too, according to the polling. The Government is still to confirm whether benefits will rise at the rate of inflation.

Inequalities amongst particular ethnic groups continue to rise, as well – the data shows that 26.6 per cent of Black and Minoritised Ethnic households are experiencing food insecurity, compared to 18.5 per cent of white households.

The Runnymede Trust reported earlier this month that Black and Minoritised Ethnic people are currently 2.2 times more likely to experience deep poverty than white people. Bangladeshi people, who face some of the steepest health inequalities as an ethnic group, are three times likelier than white people.

The Food Foundation are calling for an expansion to the government’s free school meals programme to include all children from families receiving Universal Credit. They are also asking for benefits to rise in line with inflation to limit food insecurity, and are pushing retailers to make healthy food more affordable and accessible.