According to new data, millions of individuals have recently been forced to skip meals or go a whole day without eating.
More people went hungry in September than during the chaotic first weeks of the Covid lockdown, according to the Food Foundation charity, as the UK's cost of living problem worsened. The organization said that nearly one in five low-income households faced food insecurity in September.
According to the foundation's most recent tracker, hunger levels have more than doubled since January, with almost 10 million adults and 4 million children unable to eat regular meals last month, prompting calls for stricter measures to safeguard vulnerable households.
In response to tales of hungry schoolchildren stealing food from peers, skipping lunch because they couldn't afford school meals, or bringing in packed lunches with only one slice of bread, these calls included requests for free school meals to be made accessible to an additional 800,000 pupils.
Campaigners also decried the government's failure to rule out actual welfare changes, which are expected to worsen the financial situation of already suffering families by hundreds of pounds annually. According to the foundation's tracker, more than half of universal credit users struggled to buy the food they required.
Leading public health expert Sir Michael Marmot described the increase in hunger as "alarming" and warned that it would have negative health effects on those in society who are least able to afford them, such as an increase in stress, mental illness, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
In a separate survey of elementary schools, Chefs in Schools discovered that just under 50% of schools offered food parcels for families themselves, over two-thirds directed parents to food banks, and half offered free lunches to low-income students who weren't eligible for free school meals.
The charity's CEO, Naomi Duncan, said the study "reveals the awful reality that instructors see on a daily basis."
"The situation is terrible and just getting worse. In order to ensure that assistance reaches the children who need it most, we demand that the government immediately expand eligibility for free school meals to all families receiving universal credit.
Due to stagnant wages and programme cuts over the past few years, low-income families' ability to spend has decreased along with the rise in food insecurity.
Although the recent pressure has left some households too impoverished to afford, they have frequently chosen to limit food spending when faced with "heat or eat" decisions.
A relatively new official indicator called "food insecurity" was created to count the number of people who have trouble getting the food they need due to access or financial constraints. The UK Food Standards Agency, which warned in June that rising poverty meant food insecurity was "escalating rapidly," has now formally adopted it.
Since immediately before the epidemic, The Food Foundation has tracked food insecurity using nationally representative surveys of more than 4,200 persons. 14% of households skipped meals during the first fortnight of lockdown in March and April 2020 as grocery shelves emptier and food supplies were severely disrupted.
Its subsequent surveys revealed that after the government's Covid support programme for struggling families was implemented, which included a £20 weekly boost to universal credit, furloughs, and the funding of emergency food supplies to food banks, the rate of food insecurity decreased, and stabilized at between 7-8%.
However, since January, rising food and energy costs as well as the withdrawal of Covid support have led to a significant increase in hunger. More than two-thirds of households experiencing food insecurity reported that they cut back on cooking or shut off refrigerators to save money on energy, despite the government's adoption of cost-of-living support measures.
In the past month, more than 18% of UK households stated that they had scaled back or skipped meals, 11% said they had skipped meals despite being hungry, and 6% said they had gone without food for a whole day. The tracker discovered that food insecurity was greater in larger families.
The tracker discovered that financially stressed families were not only buying less food but also forgoing healthier products because they thought it was too expensive. Just under half of those who reported food insecurity indicated they had purchased fewer vegetables, while more than half reported buying less fruit.
According to the children's charity Barnardo's, one in five parents it polled had difficulty feeding their kids enough over the previous year.
Separately, a joint statement from groups that represent more than 2,000 food banks in the UK claimed that they were having trouble keeping up with "extraordinary" demand. They said that several food banks were near collapse, leaving volunteers and staff "overworked and weary".
"Our goal will always be to support the most vulnerable, and we recognize that people are struggling with rising prices, which is why we are protecting millions of those who are most in need with at least £1,200 of direct payments," a government spokesperson said.
The government's Household Support Fund, which received a £500 million boost, is also helping needy families in England pay for necessities. According to the most recent statistics, there were also 200,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty after housing costs than in 2019/20.