Health at risk from food price surge

High levels of food price inflation are heaping pressure on the ability of people to afford sufficient amounts of healthy food.

The latest price rise tracker from the Food Foundation charity showed that prices for commonly purchased food and drink items were 3.9% higher in December 2021 compared to January of the same year.

The Food Foundation said the price hikes were likely to exacerbate “already worrying levels of dietary inequality”.

This week, the Food Standards Agency released new survey data which showed 15% of people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently classified as food insecure.

Prices rose in December for all major food categories monitored with some products seeing double-digit increases. The price of pasta, for example, was up 26.3% compared to the start of the year.

Businesses, as well as citizens, need to be braced for the increased cost of sourcing ingredients. The British Retail Consortium has warned that prices will continue to rise and at a faster rate than last year. “Retailers can no longer absorb all the cost pressures arising from more expensive transportation, labour shortages, and rising commodity and global food prices,” explained BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

With energy prices set to soar in April, fears are growing of an unfolding cost of living crisis. The Food Foundation noted how food is often the first place where costs can be cut when disposable income is tight. It said that if increased expenditure in other areas such as energy bills is needed, many people will have less money for food, sparking concerns that they will have to choose between eating or heating.         

There is debate too over the extent to which official statistics accurately capture the increase in food prices for people across different income groups. In a tweet that subsequently went viral, the campaigner and writer Jack Monroe argued that official measures that calculate inflation “grossly underestimates the real cost of inflation as it happens to people with the least”.

In a thread, she cited examples of how the cheapest commodities like rice and pasta in her local supermarket had increased in price by more than 100% - a result of both price hikes and range reviews.

Monroe has since announced the launch of her own food price index based on supermarket receipts.

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