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Food workers in UK going hungry – report

A child with an empty bowl,.
A child with an empty bowl,. Copyright Canva Stock Images
Copyright Canva Stock Images
By Joshua Askew
Published on Updated
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Authors of the report called their findings a "national disgrace"

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Workers in the UK food industry are increasingly on the breadline, a new report has found. 

The survey by the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) revealed nearly one in five food workers rely on a food bank, while just under half have skipped meals because they don't have enough money. 

Authors of the report said the "sobering" results were down to low wages and soaring energy bills. 

"Our members have faced 10 years of austerity and falling wages, a pandemic and now a cost of living crisis where inflation has surged past wages and is leaving many without the means to pay for their basic needs such as food, energy and housing costs, let alone have an income to pay for the things that provide happiness, enjoyment and contentment, like a social life, recreational and family activities," they wrote. 

Around 370 workers in food production, distribution and retail from across Britain were asked questions about their food, energy and housing. 

The number of people eating less went from 35% to 57% compared to 2021, while 55% were worried about running out of food and 80% were eating cheaper, unhealthier meals. 

"People who grow, distribute and supply our food are often unable to purchase the very food that they produce," read the report. "Workers experience food insecurity as they do not earn enough to feed themselves and their families." 

The UK, like many European countries, has been battered by inflation over the last year, hitting a 41-year high in November.

Food and drink were 19.1% more expensive in March compared to the year before, while housing and bills saw a 26.1% increase over the same period, according to the Office for National Statistics Consumer Prices Index. 

Poorer people spend a higher proportion of their income on basic necessities, like food and energy, meaning these price rises inflict a heavier toll. 

This cost of living crisis has been blamed in large part on the Ukraine war, though other factors – such as climate change and structural issues within the British energy sector – have also played a role.

In the survey, 88% of food workers were found to be cutting back on heating to save money, which the report's authors said was having "very significant" effects on their mental and physical health.  

One respondent summed up their family's circumstances as "cold and poor", describing how the home had become "a bit of a prison".

While the current cost of living crisis is certainly traceable to acute crises, the root of the problem is long-term wage stagnation, with 63% of those surveyed saying their income was insufficient to "meet basic needs".

Analysis by the Resolution Foundation found that workers in Britain are €12,700 worse off a year, following 15 years of meagre wage growth, putting the UK notably behind comparable countries such as Germany. 

Those behind the report on food workers criticised the status quo and called for sweeping changes. 

"The suffering of our members, the key workers who kept people fed during the pandemic and who continue to ensure people are fed all of the time, is a national disgrace," wrote the report's authors. "It is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue." 

Pledging "to campaign for a right to food so that no child or adult goes hungry or feels food insecure in the 5th richest country in the world," they suggest various solutions to the crisis, including raising the minimum wage to at least €17.20 an hour.

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"Our data shows clearly that people are suffering and that radical solutions are required," the report added.

In April, the government increased the minimum wage for workers aged 23 or over by 9.7% from €10.93 to €11.99 an hour.

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