Millions of families in the UK are now unable to afford a healthy diet, a damning report by The Food Foundation has revealed.
Roughly 3.7 million children in the UK come from families who earn less than £15,860 a year, according to the independent think tank.
After these families have paid housing costs, they would have to spend, on average, 42% of their income on food just in order to meet the government’s nutrition guidelines.
Elaine is a mum-of-four living in Kent. Her husband had to quit work due to ill health and recently the family was dealt another blow when their benefits were cut by £95 a week.
Each week, Elaine struggles to afford to feed her family a healthy diet. She estimates she has between £50-60 per week to spend on food for her household of six, which means she will often go without.
To put that into perspective, a family of four would need to spend £103.17 a week to afford a healthy diet, as per the government’s Eatwell Guide.
Unsurprisingly Elaine often finds it’s the least healthy options that are available within her budget. “I really try and my kids eat well,” she says. “But what we are eating is not how I would really like them to eat.”
Widening inequality is leading to higher rates of childhood obesity in deprived areas with just over a quarter (26%) of children in Year 6 being obese compared to 11% in England’s more affluent communities.
Children in the UK have just returned to school amid growing concerns over holiday hunger. For many parents, the availability of free school meals throughout term-time will provide a huge relief.
But it shouldn’t have to be that way. The Children’s Future Food Inquiry is currently gathering evidence from people who have witnessed or experienced children’s food insecurity in the UK.
Next year it will present recommendations to policy makers in order to understand and tackle children’s food insecurity and its consequences in the UK.
Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee, said: “It cannot be right that 50% of households in the UK currently have insufficient food budgets to meet the Government’s recommended Eatwell Guide. A healthy diet, which we know is important for our health and development, should not be unaffordable to so many people.
“I hope that the Government will look into this issue as a matter of urgency, in order to make eating a healthy diet more affordable.”
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “It’s crucial that a coordinated cross-government effort develops policy that accounts for the cost of its recommended diet, and creates a food system that does not consign those on lower incomes to the risk of diet-related illness.”