Money Wellness
image of an empty plate with a knife and fork in the middle
category iconcost of living
calendar icon20 Jun 2023

Nearly 6 million households having to cut down or skip meals

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) tracker out his morning has revealed that 5.7 million low-income households are having to cut down or skip meals because they don’t have enough money for food. Meanwhile, the number going without items such as food, heating, or basic toiletries (63%) has remained around 7 million for more than a year. 

The tracker also revealed:

  • There are 2.3 million low-income households on universal credit. More than two thirds of those receiving the benefit 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%) have gone hungry, cut down on or skipped meals in the last 30 days. This demonstrates the urgent need for an ‘essentials guarantee’ to protect the nation’s health.
  • Around four in ten (39%) low-income households reported being behind on a household bill or loan. This is equivalent to 4.5 million low-income households. Average arrears almost £1,600.
  • 3.7 million low-income households (31%) have less than £200 in savings.
  • 2.6 million low-income households (22%) have borrowing with a loan shark, payday lender, doorstep lender or pawn shop.

The findings reflect what we’re seeing too, with 9% of people calling us for help with their debts last month saying that they could no longer afford to feed themselves or their families.

What help is available if you can’t afford food or essentials?

Food banks provide emergency packages to those who can’t afford the essentials.

You can get a food-bank referral from places like your child’s school, a doctor, a social worker, or your local Citizens Advice.

The Trussell Trust or the Independent Food Aid Network can help you find your nearest food bank.

What will I get from a food bank?

Food banks offer emergency parcels. You’ll need a referral to use a food bank. Some food banks will only allow you to be referred once, so you can’t rely on it as a long-term solution.  

Once you’ve been referred, you’ll be told where to go to collect your food parcel. If you can’t get to a food bank because you live rurally, they might deliver to you.

Benefit entitlement

If you can’t cover day-to-day costs, like food, you should check you’re claiming all the financial help you’re entitled to. We speak to lots of people who aren’t claiming all the benefits they should. Get in touch and we can review what you’re receiving and tell you about any benefits you’re missing. 

Free supermarket food

If you’re more than 10 weeks pregnant or caring for at least one child under 4, the Healthy Start scheme could provide a card with money on it for you to spend on healthy food and milk.

Your card will be topped up every four weeks and can be used to buy:

  • cow’s milk
  • fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables
  • fresh, dried and tinned pulses
  • infant formula milk

You can also use your card to collect:

  • Healthy Start vitamins – to support you during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • vitamin drops for babies and young children – suitable from birth to 4 years old

Local council

The government has given money to local councils for children who usually receive free school meals to cover the cost of food during the school holidays. Each council has chosen how to spend this money locally so what’s on offer differs from council to council.

Ask your council for more information.

Other places worth knowing about

Even though not all these places give away free food, they’re much more affordable than typical supermarkets and can help you feed a family for less.

Foodcycle offers completely free hot meals to people who need them on a weekly basis. You don’t need a referral or to book – just turn up.

Community fridges bring people together to eat for free, connect, learn new skills, and reduce food waste. They’re places where you can collect free surplus food and sanitary products with no questions asked. There are hundreds of community fridges across the country.

Acting as a cross between food banks and supermarkets, Community Grocery, allows members to access food and life skills support, such as cookery classes. It isn’t completely free – you pay £5 a year for membership. This lets you visit your local Community Grocery up to three times a week for free food. You don’t need a referral to join.

Your Local Pantry is similar to the Community Grocery scheme. For a few pounds a week, you can fill your basket with discount food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and store cupboard favourites. You don’t need a referral to join.

Feeding Britain is an award-winning charity with a vision of a UK where no one goes hungry. It runs a number of initiatives to help people access free or low-cost food and meals.

Apps offering free food

Olio is an app that lets people pass on food that they don’t need to others living nearby. Once you’ve downloaded the app and chosen your local area, you can see who’s offering what near you. Run on a first come, first served basis, you’ll need to collect any of the food you claim.

There might also be ‘random acts of kindness’ or ‘buy nothing’ Facebook groups for your local area, where people give away surplus food and other household items for free.

Debt and food poverty

If you’re missing debt repayments or you’re struggling with problem debt and can no longer afford to feed yourself or your family, we can help. Get in touch for free, confidential, and independent debt advice and support.

Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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