Drought will push food prices even higher and force more people into food poverty, experts warn

UK supermarket food prices have jumped by 9 percent in a year and the drought will push them much higher, experts warn.

It has prompted calls for the government to provide extra help to the 10 million or so hardest hit families in the UK by the cost of living crisis.

Help could be given in the form of food vouchers or stamps and include a new network of soup kitchens, all financed by increasing the national debt.

“I’m absolutely certain that the drought will make the situation even worse,” said Chris Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen’s University Belfast, who led the 2014 inquiry into the horsemeat scandal.

“Food prices are going to rise and there will be shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables. So many will have to eat more unhealthy, hyper processed foods which are nutritionally deficient.

“This is very alarming and unfortunately the most disadvantaged in society will suffer the most,” Professor Elliott added.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, said: “The picture is very stark indeed. The trends have been going up for the past year before we’ve even hit the big energy crisis. This will rocket with the energy cap rises and more food price inflation.

“But we’ve basically got government recalcitrance – they just don’t want to do anything about it. They could be doing things if they wanted to.

His call for food support comes as a Food Standards Agency (FSA) report suggests another two million people in the UK have fallen into ‘food insecurity’, also known as food poverty, in just six months – in most cases because of the cost of living crunch means they cannot afford to buy the food they need.

Food poverty means that people can’t get enough safe and nutritious food “to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”, according to the FSA.

This typically leads to people eating less than they should, cutting the size of their meal or skipping meals or being hungry.

The FSA report found that 3 percent of the population of England, Wales and Northern Ireland moved into food poverty between June, 2021 and January, 2022 – equating to about 2 million people.

With Scotland experiencing similar cost of living difficulties as the rest of the UK, this means about 12 million people in the UK are now in food poverty.

Professor Lang added: “You could transfer money [to households] and you could have a new system of soup kitchens. There are lots of things that could be done but we’re waiting for the outcome of the Tory leadership and the delay means that by then we’ll be in the thick of it.”

He was speaking to i ahead of publication of an article on Wednesday on behalf of the Food Research Collaboration, a group he set up based at City University that brings together academics, civil society groups and food industry practitioners.

“The new FSA survey shows 18 percent of consumers now categorized as food insecure, a staggering level for such a rich country. This will increase this winter unless there is a dramatic transfer of funds to the already squeezed,” he wrote.

“So far, energy costs have dominated publicity. But the food collateral damage will quickly become more visible because food is a flexible item in household budgets. It’s eaten every day. Or should be.

“The easiest fix to rocketing food poverty is for the state to inject quantitative easing or take on more national debt to enable a massive transfer to benefits and redeemable for food. Give people money to buy food. A big increase in Universal Credit would be a start. Might this be the moment when a US-style food stamps scheme is introduced in the UK?”

He has not calculated how much money should be given to the 10 to 12 million households really struggling to buy food but says the “sums will need to be huge if we want people to eat healthily and not cut back”.

He points to government estimates that in 2019/20 the amount that an average household spent on all food and drink, including alcoholic drinks and food eaten out was £48.01 per person per week – a figure that is likely to have increased substantially since then.

However, he has not worked out what percentage of that amount should be given to poorer households and is not calling for this to be the amount.

Rishi Sunak’s campaign team did not respond to a request for a comment on whether he would offer support for food to the poorer households.

A spokesperson for Liz Truss’ campaign said: “As Prime Minister, Liz would work closely with her Chancellor to look at the resources available and make a decision on how best to support families struggling with rising food prices. She would also remove EU regulations on farmers to supercharge productivity, enhance food security, and ensure we have a high quality and affordable supply of British food.”

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