Parents facing soaring energy bills are cutting back on how much food they buy and eating cold meals to save on power as the cost of living crisis bites, a UK study has found.
A quarter of parents with at least one child under 18 have reduced the quantity of food they buy to ensure they can afford other household essentials including gas and electricity bills, which are due to rise from Saturday.
A YouGov poll commissioned by the National Energy Action and Food Foundation charities showed 28% of parents have also reduced the quality of food they were buying.
The survey of 4,280 adults found that more than one in 10 parents had eaten cold meals, or ones that did not require cooking, to save money on energy.
Household energy costs are to rise again from 1 October as soaring wholesale gas prices feed through into consumer bills.
Despite Liz Truss’s policy to freeze a typical household energy bill at £2,500 – which could cost the government more than £100bn to fund – many households will still struggle to afford the new tariffs as they are nearly double the £1,271 average bill a year ago.
This increase is equivalent to almost a third of the amount a very low-income household with two adults and two children spends on food over the course of a year.
The rise in costs meant the number of UK households in fuel poverty would have increased from 4.5m last October to 6.7m now, National Energy Action said.
Its study found 67% of parents were worried that increasing energy prices would mean they had less money to buy food. More than half were concerned about prospects for this winter and the impact on their family’s health.
Adam Scorer, the chief executive at National Energy Action, said: “People have had to choose between heating and eating. This winter millions will not have even that choice. The most vulnerable, including children, will be cold and hungry as energy prices spiral, despite government support.”
Dominic Watters, a single parent living on a council estate in Kent, spoke of the anxiety induced by having to rely on emergency credit on the pre-payment meter.
He said: “When the electric is on emergency I live in a state of emergency, not knowing if I’ll be able to cook the food, boil the kettle, wash my daughter’s uniform or even have a shower.”
Watters says he “dreads” when the power is cut off during the night as food in the freezer spoils. “It’s quite a harsh way to live,” he said.
There appears to be little respite from rising prices for consumers after wholesale gas prices jumped again this week following a series of gas leaks in subsea pipelines in Europe, which caused concerns over supplies. This week’s cold snap in the UK is likely to put further pressure on demand for gas.