One in seven people in UK going hungry because they can’t afford to eat

One in seven people in UK going hungry because they can’t afford to eat

One in seven people in the UK are going hungry because they can’t afford spiralling food costs, new research suggests.

Disabled people, single parents and those living alone are the worst affected, food bank charity Trussell Trust has warned, and people are distancing themselves from family and friends because of the costs of meeting up.

An estimated 11.3 million people faced hunger in the past year – more than double Scotland’s population – the charity which runs more than 1,200 food banks in the UK found.

Shadow secretary of state for work and pensions Jonathan Ashworth said the figures were a “devastating reflection” on the Conservative government.

Researchers also conducted interviews with 50 people who used their food banks last year. A 50-year-old single mother-of-two said she had to seek help because she only had a single tin of beans left in her cupboard.

“My daughter was saying. ‘Mum, have we got to have beans again? Can’t we have this? Can’t we have that?’... I’ve failed my family because I couldn’t feed them properly.”

Another interviewee said that she didn’t turn on the lights in her home so she could save some money. “I’ve got a little battery-powered torch next to my bed, so I have that on to read at night. We used to watch a bit of telly in the evening, but I don’t really tend to put that on anymore.”

 (The Trussell Trust)
(The Trussell Trust)

Another man, who has a physical disability, said he can only afford to shower once a week with cold water. He told researchers it was “ridiculous” but “there’s nothing I can do about it”.

One mother, who stopped working when her child fell ill, shared her joy in finding a new job which meant she can now afford food again. She said she could now “get a hot chocolate and things like that,” adding: “That was something we couldn’t afford when there was just absolutely nothing coming into the house.”

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Another food bank user who was living alone said that he preferred to not tell anyone about his financial issues. “I don’t disclose my salary to anyone, I don’t tell anyone about what I’m getting from the government … It’s just if I’m suffering, I will do it quietly.”

One in four people referred to food banks said they experienced severe social isolation, saying they see family, friends or neighbours less than once a month, the charity reported.

An estimated 7 per cent of the UK population is estimated to be dependent on charities for food, with disabled people, ethnic minorities, single parents, carers and those who have spent time in the care system worst affected.

 (The Trussell Trust)
(The Trussell Trust)

The number of people experiencing poverty in the UK had remained relatively stable since the early 2000s, with 14.4 million households on a low income (an income that is below 60 per cent of the UK median).

However, the number of those being pushed further into poverty has risen, according to research from the think tank Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Experts in international development have also warned that the UK is becoming increasingly reliant on food banks.

Professor Melissa Leach, director of the Institute of Development Studies, said: “We urgently need to improve access to affordable nutritious food. Over the last decade, charities have stepped in to plug the gaps left by the state but this is not an acceptable or sustainable way to address the growing prevalence of hunger.”

Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said: “We need a social security system which provides protection and the dignity for people to cover their own essentials, such as food and bills.”

The charity, along with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is calling for the government to create an “Essentials Guarantee”, which would ensure that universal credit benefit payments never fall below the basic amount need to afford essentials – like food and bills.

Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth said food bank use was up and charities were forced to step in “because Tory ministers let inflation soar, increased taxes on working people and crashed the economy forcing both mortgages and rent bills up”.

He added: “Labour has a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis, including through mandatory measures to tackle the Tory mortgage penalty.”

A government spokesperson said: “We know people are struggling, which is why we’re providing record financial support worth an average £3,300 per household.

“On top of this we have raised benefits and the state pension in line with inflation, increased the national living wage and are supporting families with food, energy and other essential costs.”

The survey was conducted by Ipsos of 3,948 people within the general population between May and August 2022. A further survey of 2,563 people referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network was undertaken between April and August last year.