Inflation hits society’s most vulnerable families hardest

The writer is Director of Policy, Research and Impact at the Trussell Trust, a charity that supports food banks and food elimination campaigns across the UK.

If you were to imagine a cost-of-living crisis that would do the most damage to those least able to bear it, it would be very similar to the current economic situation in the UK.

Why? First, because today’s crisis was caused mainly by the sharp increase in food and energy prices, expenses that make up a much larger part of the budget of people with low incomes than those who are more affluent. Last time Discovered by Office for National Statistics that inflation for low-income households was 10.1 percent, while for high-income households it was only 8.7 percent.

The real-life effects of this imbalance are particularly devastating because prices have risen the most in those areas of spending that are causing real hardship—people can’t afford to eat, they sit in the cold and dark, and they’re afraid to turn on the washing machine. or oven. The latest inflation data for this week showed that food inflation remains high, even as other cost-driven factors are starting to ease. Particularly striking is the rise in the cost of basic foodstuffs, which are the building blocks of affordable meals: milk has risen in price by 33 percent, potatoes and bread by 28 percent, eggs by 37 percent.

At Trussell Trust study with people on universal credit, one parent described her daily struggle to keep her family clean and fed. They told the charity: Children are fed, but my husband and I rarely. I have not paid my water bill, but by the end of the month I will have to stop paying another bill as food prices are rising rapidly.” The family will worry about the fact that the gas and electricity that were on the main meters are running out: “Then everything is until Monday, even if the lights are off and the appliances are kept to a minimum. I wash everything by hand in buckets to save money.”

The damage done by the current crisis is exacerbated by the fact that it comes immediately after the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people who are already struggling. Workers in poverty have been hit by job and income cuts due to Covid. During the pandemic, people with high incomes tended to keep their wages and even accumulated savings, while low-income people were forced to take on more debt to cover expenses which grew as their incomes fell.

The vulnerability of these people, first to the pandemic and then to the cost-of-living crisis, was even higher due to the long-term trend of rising levels of extreme poverty. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that between 2017 and 2019, poverty in the UK increased by 54 percent.

Against the background of all this, support is stretched to the limit. Last August, NHS leaders wrote to the Chancellor warning that a cost-of-living crisis was about to escalate into an NHS crisis due to the impact of poverty on people’s health. This added pressure on an already overstretched health service has likely increased even further over the past year.

The shocking culmination of all this was the discovery that food banks in the Trussell Trust network provided nearly 3 million packages last year, a million of which were for children. This is 37% more than the previous year in terms of emergency parcels, reflecting record levels of demand across all parts of the UK. But our numbers (supported by other studies of deep poverty and deprivation) show that this is not a sudden emergency: it is the latest chapter in a long-term crisis, with need more than doubling in the past five years.

Volunteers and employees of food banks coped with any task and satisfied all needs. They will continue to do so, but they are tired. Many are tired to the bone. One food bank executive described it as pressure cooker situation.” Another, reflecting on the “peaks and troughs in demand” in the monthly data, said of this year: “Unfortunately, we have reached a new level that we never wanted to reach.”

It is becoming clearer to all of us every day that food banks and charities are not the answer. Food inflation is predicted to ease as the cost of resources such as energy and goods declines, but this will not end this crisis. Millions of people will still be unable to afford essentials, falling into dire situations until we offer real, sustainable solutions, starting with reforming universal credit.

It seems incredible that the level of this good is not determined by the real needs of life, but such is the situation. As a result, the current level has fallen well below the cost of food, clothing and basic household items such as cleaning products. We have calculated that an unmarried adult needs £120 a week to cover these costs, but Universal Credit only pays £85.

Charities simply cannot address the root causes of these unacceptable hardships on their own—we can never do enough to stem the tide of hunger.