Labour has warned of a “cost of living tsunami” as families face price rises of up to 50 per cent on everyday grocery items.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the cheapest pasta rose by 50 per cent in the 12 months to April, while the average price of bread, minced beef, rice and crisps increased by more than 15 per cent.
Charities say the increase will see more of the poorest families turn to food banks as households struggle with the brunt of the cost of living crisis, which has driven up energy bills, rent prices and food costs.
It comes after The Independent revealed how tens of thousands of Britain’s poorest families stand to miss out on help measures introduced by the chancellor Rishi Sunak thanks to the benefits cap.
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, said: “Prices are soaring while struggling families are cutting back or even turning to food banks.
“Tory MPs last month cut universal credit in real terms after slashing it by £20 a week last year. This is a cost of living tsunami caused by years of Tory economic mismanagement.”
Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), said: “Increasing staple food prices combined with rising costs in energy are inevitably going to put yet more pressure on low-income households and in turn increase the need for food banks
“The chancellor’s cash-first interventions are very welcome but they don’t go far enough given the scale of the UK’s long-standing poverty crisis.”
IFAN said 93 per cent of its food banks have reported an increase or significant increase in the need for their services since the start of 2022.
As part of the ONS research, statisticians chose 30 low-cost groceries that are regularly purchased by households and tracked their prices from April 2021 to April 2022. During this period, average prices jumped by 6 to 7 per cent, running close to the inflation of overall food and alcohol prices.
“For months we’ve heard that families on the lowest incomes have had to make tough choices when doing their weekly food shop, putting items back on the shelves and at the till when hit with rising prices,” said Alice Fuller, head of child poverty at Save the Children UK.
“This new ONS analysis of 30 everyday grocery items confirms their experiences and shows the cost of living crisis has already had an impact on people’s finances and the way they eat … The price of a basket of shopping is adding to people’s woes.”
Some everyday items tracked in the ONS analysis showed a drop in prices, including cheese, pizza, chips, sausages and apples. The cost of potatoes saw the most notable decrease, at 14 per cent.
However, the research, which the ONS said was “highly experimental”, does not take into account the costs associated with buying a product.
While potato prices have dropped significantly, many struggling households avoid them because they take longer to boil than alternatives and therefore use more gas or electricity. In March, the boss of Iceland said that some food bank users were turning down potatoes and other root vegetables because they could not afford to boil them.
At the same time that staple grocery items have increased, food bank usage has also risen, according to the Trussell Trust.
Between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022, food banks in the charity’s UK network distributed over 2.1 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis – a year-on-year increase of 14 per cent.
Elizabeth Maytom, a project manager for Norwood-Brixton Food Bank, in south London, said local demand had particularly intensified in recent weeks, describing it as “unprecedented”.
“We don’t have enough stock,” she said. “Even basics like pasta and baked beans, we’re asking the general public for, which we never used to do. We’re seeing lots of people needing help for the first time.”
IFAN said more than 80 per cent of its 194 food banks reported that they have struggled with food supply issues over the last four months.
Kathy Bland, an IFAN member of Leominster Food Bank, in Herefordshire, said their organisation gave out 179 food parcels in April 2022, compared to 86 in April 2021.
“We can’t replace the welfare system, and neither should we,” she said. “Providing long-term support for people unable to afford food isn’t sustainable.”
Separate data from The Food Foundation recently showed a 57 per cent increase in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals altogether in just three months.
In April, 7.3 million adults lived in households that said they had gone without food or could not physically get it in the past month. This is compared with 4.7 million adults in January.
“There’s no doubt that the cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on families’ ability to afford the food they need,” said Shona Goudie, policy research manager at The Food Foundation.
“This is in part due to the large increase in food prices that we’re seeing, but also due to increases in prices of other essentials (such as energy bills) which is putting pressure on families’ disposable income and therefore squeezing their food budget.”
Mr Sunak said that almost all of the 8 million worst-off households in the UK will benefit to the tune of £1,200, made up of support measures including a £650 cost of living payment for the poorest, a one-off £300 payment to 8 million pensioner households and £150 each to 6 million disabled people.
He added that he will double the assistance with energy bills on offer to all households this autumn from £200 to £400 and convert the payment from a loan to a grant.
However, while benefits payments are set to soar by as much as 10 per cent from April, more than 120,000 households will lose out unless ministers raise the cap on how much they can receive from the state.