Social Justice

UK faces its 'worst food crisis in a very long time', expert warns

The number of people going hungry is the highest it has ever been since Food Foundation started recording the statistics 10 years ago.

Shoppers in a supermarket stand at the check out and load their food

Prices in supermarkets are going higher and higher as the UK food crisis worsens. Image: Gwydion Williams/Flickr

The UK is facing its “worst food crisis in a very long time” with rising prices leaving “families on the lowest incomes with nowhere to go”, an expert has warned. 

Anna Taylor, CEO of the Food Foundation, told the UK Trade and Business Commission on Thursday that the number of people going hungry is the highest it has ever been since the charity started recording food insecurity 10 years ago.

Between January and April of this year, the Food Foundation recorded a 57 per cent increase in people going hungry. In April, 7.3 million adults and 2.6 million children said they had gone without food or could not physically get it that month.

Taylor said: “We’re extremely concerned by the speed of that deterioration but also what this means for families going forward and the knock-on impacts on their health and wellbeing and, of course, the health and wellbeing of their children.

“It’s important to remember that children are growing and their bodies need nutrients at particular points to reach their full potential, whether that’s their physical growth or their brain development.”

Taylor said there has been a huge spike in childhood obesity coming out of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis brings a range of health concerns. People living in poverty are more likely to opt for the cheapest food over the healthiest, studies have found

“The affordability of eating in a way that protects our health is deteriorating very rapidly,” Taylor added. “Forecasts are very gloomy.”

Taylor and other experts speaking to the commission warned that Brexit, the war in Ukraine and climate change are likely to make the food crisis worse in coming months and years.

“While this is the worst food crisis we’ve seen in a very long time,” she said. “Let’s not forget we have seen three food [price] spikes in the last 15 years. This is something we need to get used to because of climate change.”

James Withers, the CEO of trade association Scotland Food and Drink, added that “millions of acres [of land] are going to become unproductive as a result of global warming, dwindling supplies, and food systems will start to break down”. 

He also said that Brexit is having serious implications on supply chains and the food industry which, in turn, is exacerbating the cost of living crisis.

The government released a food strategy earlier this month promising to set out “long-term measures to support a food system that offers access to healthy and sustainable food for all”. 

But Taylor claimed this strategy “reflected a real lack of confident leadership on this issue”. She said that the government should be looking to take immediate action on widening the free school meals scheme because many children living in poverty “miss out because they are not quite poor enough”. 

Taylor said she would like to see the benefit system become more responsive to inflation and be reviewed on a quarterly rather than annual basis. “At the moment,” she explained, “we’ve got this big lag time which has a very material effect day to day on the lowest income families.”

The UK’s welfare system has repeatedly come under fire for not doing enough to support people through hardship. Universal credit rose by 3.1 per cent in April, while inflation currently stands at 9.1 per cent – the highest rate in 40 years.

“There are some nice goals set out that are ambitions for the food system, but they carry no weight,” Taylor continued. “We need these goals to have a legal or statutory footing which actually sets the agenda for change past this government and for successive governments. That’s what we’re lacking at the moment.”

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