Written evidence submitted by Food Active (FS0020)

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Call for Evidence (Food Insecurity)



About this submission

Food Active is a healthy weight programme delivered by the Health Equalities Group, and commissioned by local authority public health teams, NHS organisations, and Public Health England teams at both regional and national level.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry. We are contributing to this inquiry as we are concerned about the impact the ongoing cost-of-living crisis is having on access to healthy food and drink, and subsequently diet-related illness. We work closely with local authority public health teams across the North of England who are echoing these concerns in their local communities. We feel there is much the Government can do to support families across the country, with a particular focus on those already living in deprived areas or on low incomes, who will be bearing the brunt of the crisis hardest. We are happy to provide oral evidence for this inquiry if required.















  1. What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?



  1. What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider managing these pressures?

The Government must urgently manage the pressures food price inflation is having on communities, in particular those who are on low incomes or living in deprived areas.

In August data found that fresh food prices rose by 10.5%, the highest rate since September 2008, when the global financial system was on the brink of collapse[1].

ONS data shows that the largest price rises came from products such as bread, cereals, milk, cheese, eggs and yogurt. These are all regarded as staple foods and provide important sources of carbohydrates, protein and dairy. On the other hand, the smallest price rises were seen on foods including meat (notably from cooked ham and bacon), sugar, jam, syrups, chocolate, and confectionery. It is important to consider how these price rises will influence consumer purchasing behaviour, and consequently diet quality particularly in those on low incomes.

The rise in shop prices adds to pressure on households already struggling to cope with the prospect of much higher household energy bills this autumn and winter as well as high petrol prices. Those on the lowest incomes are expected to be hit hardest by inflation because a larger proportion of their budget goes on essentials including food and energy.

The Government should consider compensating customers via the following opportunities:



  1. How are the rising cost of living and increasing food prices affecting access to healthy and nutritious food?


Altering cooking methods to save on energy

The cost-of-living crisis may be forcing households to reconsider not only the food that they buy, but households may also start to consider modes of food preparation and opting for meals that use up less energy. According to uSwitch, a microwave is the most energy-efficient appliance, followed by a hob and lastly an oven[2].

Estimates from Energy Saving Trust suggest that five minutes' usage of a typical microwave (800W, category E) will use about 0.09kWh of electricity, costing around 1.3p. In comparison, the typical gas consumption each time a gas hob is used is about 0.9kWh, costing around 3.4p[3]. These prices are based on the old energy price cap and will increase dramatically after April 2022.

With microwaves being the most appealing appliance in terms of energy usage and associated costs, households may start to avoid using ovens and hobs.

Earlier this year, The Guardian reported some food bank users are declining items such as potatoes and other root vegetables as they simply cannot afford the energy to boil them, because of the soaring cost of electricity[4].

Furthermore, food banks are reporting that users are increasingly requesting products that do not need cooking as the cost-of-living crisis bites deeper and families cannot afford energy bills[5].

Some types of meals require little energy to prepare such as instant foods and ready meals that only require a couple of minutes in the microwave, or instant foods that are prepared simply by adding hot water. However, their nutritional value is often limited, and they often contain few fruit and vegetables, and can also be high in fat, sugar and or salt[6].

Of course, not all food cooked in the microwave is unhealthy by any means, but the energy crisis may mean that home cooked meals from scratch may be simply off the cards, due to the cost of the energy required on top of the cost of the ingredients, not to mention the time to prepare and convenience.

Some areas are supporting communities by supplying households with a slow cooker, which is a energy efficient appliance and can use up to 60% less energy than an oven[7],[8].


Making a choice between food quality and quantity.

It is important people are able to access the right quality, variety, as well as quantity of food. If we do not address all of these aspects, it is likely to only further widen the health disparities we already see in this country.

The reality is at present, those who have limited budget to spend on food and drink must make a difficult decision between food quantity and quality. Often, quantity will take precedent to avoid anyone in the household going hungry, but this can also mean meals are high calorie but nutrient poor. The recent Broken Plate report found that more healthy foods are nearly three times as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods[9].

Poor quality diet is a key contributor to diet-related ill health, including overweight and obesity. It comes as no surprise that rates of children with obesity are increasing significantly faster in communities with high deprivation levels compared to those with low deprivation levels.


Fuelling food insecurity

Being able to afford food is affected by other financial demands on households, and food is often the first expenditure to be cut when disposable income is tight. Not only will households have to start sacrificing the quality of foods (as per above), but some are being stretched to the point where the quantity becomes an issue. The reality is that many households are skipping meals or providing smaller portions to make ends meet, which means they are experiencing food insecurity.

Data published by the Food Foundation in April found that:

Food insecurity is intrinsically linked to adverse health outcomes, especially among children, with increased risks of chronic disease and mental illness later in life[10]. The likelihood is that these figures will continue to rise as we see further price rises in energy and the cost of living.


  1. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:
    1. the resilience of food supply chains?;
    2. the agri-food and seafood sectors?;
    3. access to healthy, nutritious food?


Compared to the ambitious recommendations laid out in the National Food Strategy (which would go a long way to help address issues such as food insecurity, increase access to healthy and nutritious food, and breaking the junk food cycle), the Government’s response fails to measure up in ambition and scale.

The public consultation on buying standards for food and catering was needed, however beyond this there is little that will urgently address the barriers families face in accessing healthy and nutritious food. Furthermore, the paper comes at a time where levels of overweight and obesity are at record highs and is therefore a real missed opportunity.

The Health Disparities White Paper referenced within this document, was expected in July 2022. Whilst we appreciate there must be a period of adjustment for the new administration, the Health Disparities White Paper is now long overdue, action on tackling health disparities is urgently needed.

We are also disheartened to hear of plans to scale back proposals set out in the national obesity strategy, following a review ordered by the new Prime Minister. These policies include addressing the marketing and promotion of less healthy food and drink, which would take junk food out of the spotlight and provide more opportunities for healthier products to be advertised. Concrete details on the outcome of the review have yet to be announced by the government, however we are concerned that this move will only further impact the ability of households to access healthy, nutritious food.

We call on the new government to affirm their commitment on reducing obesity and publish the Health Disparities White Paper without further delay.


  1. Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?


  1. How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?


[1] ONS (2022) Consumer price inflation, UK: July 2022. https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/bulletins/consumerpriceinflation/july2022

[2] uSwitch (2021). Energy efficient cooking [online] Available at: https://www.uswitch.com/energy-efficiency/energy-efficient-cooking/

[3] Wandsworth Council (2021) Cooking up savings with crew energy [online]. Available at: https://wandsworth.gov.uk/news/2021-news/news-january-2021/cooking-up-savings-with-crew-energy/

[4] The Guardian (2022) Food bank users declining potatoes as cooking costs too high, says Iceland boss [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/mar/23/food-bank-users-declining-potatoes-as-cooking-costs-too-high-says-iceland-boss

[5] Food Foundation (2022) https://foodfoundation.org.uk/press-release/millions-adults-missing-meals-cost-living-crisis-bites

[6] NHS (2020). What are processed foods? [online]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-processed-foods/ 

[7] https://www.feedingliverpool.org/fedup-slowcooker-trainer/

[8] https://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/20131982.hyndburn-food-pantry-users-get-free-slow-cooker-classes/

[9] Food Foundation (2022) The Broken Plate Report: https://foodfoundation.org.uk/publication/broken-plate-2022

[10] Gundersen C, Ziliak JP (2015) Food insecurity and Health outcomes. Health Aff (Millwood) 34, 11, 1830–1839.