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The true face of UK food poverty

calendar01 November 2018

Gemma Pask's avatar Gemma Pask

The true face of UK food poverty

When I say poverty – or more precisely, food poverty – what picture comes to your mind? Do you see someone emaciated and malnourished? You’re not alone.

The media feeds us a certain image of poverty. Starving children in Africa, ribs visible, wasting away. All of this is a terrible truth of the developing world, but the reality we see here at CAP in households across the UK is very different and very real.

Every week we meet people in situations where their income is so low that food stops being about enjoyment and nutrition, and becomes about staying alive and keeping their family alive. 67% of CAP’s clients say they had missed meals due to poverty.

Costly staples like fruit, veg and fish become a luxury, and inexpensive refined carbohydrates that fill you up become the norm. A study by the Food Foundation thinktank found that 14.4 million households are unable to afford the diet that is nutritionally recommended by the Government.

Indeed, for the price of one cabbage from Tesco (79p), you could buy a loaf of budget range bread (36p) and two tins of Everyday Value spaghetti hoops (21p each) – several meals, carb-heavy and filling, but with next to no nutritional value.

Similarly, for less than the price of one loose pepper (55p) you could buy a 1kg bag of budget range white rice (45p) that could last you a week or more.

Think about it. You have £1 in your pocket. You haven’t eaten in days. You need to feed your kids. What are you going to do? Well, that’s the problem – you don’t have a choice.

On top of the severe lack of nutritional value, there’s the matter of the amount of saturated fat, sugar, salt and various other nasties in the kinds of foods the poorest have no choice but to rely on.

For example, a bag of oven chips in Asda’s budget range costs 60p per kilogram, but contains two times the fat and 25% more salt than their standard range, which costs more than twice as much, at £1.25 per kilogram.

What does all of this lead to? It’s a depressing pathway to a multitude of health problems including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and, you guessed it, obesity.

Suddenly, that picture of food poverty with which you’re so familiar starts to look very different. You start to realise that food poverty in our culture isn’t necessarily about the quantity of food you can afford, but more often it’s the quality and the poor nourishment it provides.

With food bank usage in the UK hitting an all-time high earlier this year, and low income being the most common motivator, this is a crisis that’s far from over. Heartbreakingly, it’s on the rise.

The need is being recognised – food banks are doing incredible work, schools are hosting kids’ clubs in the morning and during the holidays to make sure children aren’t going hungry – but there’s so much more to be done. It’s time we raised our voices to turn judgement based on body size into compassion based on understanding what UK food poverty really looks like.

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