Rising cost of basic food items leaving poorest people worst off, UK study finds

As staple food inflation runs above 16%, many say they have skipped or reduced the size of a meal

More than half of all adults in Great Britain are buying less food and drink, with surging costs leaving the most vulnerable worst off.

People in the most deprived areas of England are the most likely to have cut back, with 61% saying they were buying less food when shopping last month, compared with 44% in the least deprived areas and 51% across Great Britain.

Almost a quarter of those questioned in the Food Standards Agency’s consumer insight tracker said they had skipped or reduced the size of a meal because they could not afford to buy supplies, as food and non-alcoholic drink prices rose by 16.5% in the year to November 2022, the highest increase since September 1977, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Staple foods such as bread and cereals, have seen the largest price increases, rising by 1.9% in the past month alone, contributing to an annual increase of 16.6%.

That meant inflation for low-income households, where staple foods make up a bigger share of the budget, stood at 10.5%, while the figure for high-income households was 9.1%.

Campaigners and analysts suggest that supermarkets have been raising prices in their cut-price ranges more quickly than more luxury items, piling pressure on those needing to save money.

The food writer and activist Jack Monroe was among the first to highlight how prices for cheaper food products had soared and their availability on supermarket shelves had fallen, contributing to rising hunger and poverty. Her campaign prompted Asda to introduce a more extensive budget range.

One study published this week, which tracked the cost of almost 19,000 items in UK supermarkets on a daily basis from July to December, found that items originally below 75p accelerated at the fastest rate – 16%. In contrast, items priced from £1.50 to £5 in July went up by just under 4%, and those above £5 fell by nearly 4%.

The items, checked by the price tracking agency Skuuudle, include many supermarket value-range products such as biscuits, chocolate, snacks, oils, rice, pasta, cans and packets of food.

A spokesperson for Skuuudle said the differences made “difficult reading for those on low incomes who are seeing the cost of many value items increase but who may not be able to benefit at all from the reduction in price of more expensive items. This change could well be driven by a reduced demand for more expensive items as more people turn to value products during the cost of living crisis.”

Concern that rising inflation is having a disproportionate impact on people in poorer households in the UK prompted government number-crunchers to provide a more detailed breakdown of the cost of living from this year.

In October, the ONS reported that the overall price of budget food items in supermarkets rose by 17% in the year to the end of September. This was nearly double the 9% annual increase measured in the 12 months to April.


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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