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More than 1m people in UK regularly struggle to afford food, report finds

The Guardian logo The Guardian 07/12/2020 Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent
Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

More than a million of the UK’s poorest people are regularly struggling to pay for food and are in “severe financial trouble”, and most do not believe politicians care about helping them, a survey by the centre-right thinktank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has shown.

More than a third of people in the poorest households with annual incomes below £16,999 have occasionally struggled to pay for food while a fifth find it a regular problem. A third also worry about losing their jobs in the near future, as the Covid-19 pandemic triggers unemployment levels that are predicted to rise to 7.5% by early next year, up from 4% at the start of 2020.

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Only 29% of low earners said they believed the Conservatives cared about them compared with 53% for Labour.


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The findings were described as unacceptable by the thinktank. “We have more than enough resources, initiative and brainpower to go around and ensure those falling behind are cared for,” said its chief executive, Andy Cook. “It is an indictment on our current political discourse that a majority of Britain’s poorest do not believe either party will help them.”

Independent food banks reported a doubling in demand over the summer, and have warned they are seeing another increase this winter. Asda recently announced it would provide children with free hot meals at its 216 supermarkets until the end of the month.

Scotland’s independent food banks reported at least a doubling in the need for emergency food parcels compared with last year’s April to July figures. UK-wide, comparing May 2020 with May 2019, demand increased 177%, according to the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN).

“We are seeing yet more increases in the need for emergency food parcels as winter takes hold,” said Sabine Goodwin, the coordinator of IFAN. “Covid-19’s impact on low-income households cannot be solved by a succession of emergency responses involving the charitable provision of food. Now is the time to focus on the root causes of escalating poverty before even more people are forced to turn to struggling food aid charities rather than a robust social security system and adequate wages.”

In the six months from April to September this year, demand for help from the Trussell Trust which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks, rose 47%, and it handed out more than 1.2m emergency food parcels in that period. It is expecting its busiest ever December.

The CSJ survey lays bare the vulnerabilities of the poorest people in the UK, as the economy contracts and already precarious household finances are tipped into crisis. Of the people surveyed, 37% said they were worried about losing their jobs in the near future and just over a third said they had been unable to pay a household bill since the beginning of the pandemic. Many have very little savings to act as a buffer. A quarter said they had less than £350 set aside in case of an emergency.

In the six months from April to September this year, demand for help from the Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks, rose 47%. © Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images In the six months from April to September this year, demand for help from the Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks, rose 47%.
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