5.7 million low-income households are having to cut down or skip meals because they don’t have enough money for food, while the number going without items such as food, heating or basic toiletries (63%) has remained around 7 million for more than a year according to latest analysis by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
The research also showed 2.3 million low-income households on Universal Credit, more than two thirds of those receiving Universal Credit, have been forced into changing the kind of food they buy – including making less nutritious choices
Around nine in ten (87%) low-income households on Universal Credit have gone without at least one essential for the third survey in over a year – three quarters (76%) having gone hungry, cut down on or skipped meals in the last 30 days, demonstrating the urgent need for an Essentials Guarantee to protect the nation’s health.
Exceptionally high food inflation is combining with inadequate support from Universal Credit to create a “horrendous new normal” where levels of hardship are persisting and those on the lowest incomes are being forced into making impossible choices about how often they eat and which foods they buy.
JRF says that the number of low-income households going without essentials, going hungry and in arrears has not budged in over a year, and this is likely to have long lasting consequences on their family life, finances and health.
Record food inflation, which reached 19% at the time of the survey, replaced energy prices as one of the the biggest contributors to inflation in April 2023. 2.7 million low-income households (23%) experienced a poor diet, such as eating less nutritious meals, as a result of the cost of living crisis. Almost 1.5 million low-income households, more than four in ten on Universal Credit, experienced a poor diet.
The overall number of low-income households going hungry or cutting or skipping meals was 5.7 million (48%), and the number of households going without other essentials like showers, transport and toiletries was 6.5 million (56%).
The situation has been almost universally dire for people on Universal Credit. 54% of low-income households receiving Universal Credit have been going without three or more essentials, showing the depth of this situation over a prolonged period in spite of cost of living payments from the government.
More than two thirds (69%) of low-income households on Universal Credit have changed the type of food they have bought, for example buying less fresh produce, and 68% have also cut back on food for adults, indicating that the effects of the cost of living now could have consequences for the nation’s health in years to come.
Rachelle Earwaker, Senior Economist for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said “Over the past year people have been telling us about being unable to afford hot meals, shampoo or a warm shower. We are seeing these levels of hardship persist and it has become a horrendous new normal – with over half of low-income households on Universal Credit going without three or more of the essentials that we all need to live.”
“That places a huge burden on families in the here and now, but we need to get real that this is a hardship crisis that won’t end as inflation starts to fall. Higher prices will remain baked in, and cost of living payments, while necessary, are not even providing breathing space for people who desperately need it. That is because the Universal Credit system isn’t based on what people need to live on – even in a good year.”
“The extraordinary levels of food inflation are also forcing people into buying less fresh and healthy food and more packaged, processed or less nutritious food. We know that poverty is already having a profound impact on the nation’s health and we face the moral outrage of life expectancy falling for some groups. At the same time, hardship on this scale will drive yet more demand onto the NHS over the years to come.”
“It’s vital for this moment and for the years to come that as a nation we commit to an Essentials Guarantee, to ensure that Universal Credit supports us all to at least afford essentials, like food, utilities and vital household items, while we recover from setbacks. Without this, many families face the bleak prospect of running to catch up but never being able to because they are in a spiral of debt, rising prices and worsening health.”