Which? poll says many 'borrowing money for food'

A shopping basket The survey suggests many households are cutting back on essentials

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One in five UK households borrowed money or used savings to cover food costs in April, a Which? survey says.

It suggests the equivalent of five million households used credit cards, overdrafts or savings to buy food.

The consumer group tracks the spending habits and behaviours of 2,000 people every month.

Which? boss Richard Lloyd described the findings as "shocking". The government said tax and benefit changes meant working households were now better off.

The figures come despite official statistics last week showing that personal insolvencies had dropped to their lowest levels in five years.

The Which? monthly tracker involves researchers interviewing a cross-section of the population online. The results can then be filtered by age, income, gender or region.

Of the one in five households borrowing or dipping into savings to pay for food, most were low income families - half of whom earned less than £21,000 a year.

Average household earnings in 2011 were about £37,000, according to the most recently available data from the Office for National Statistics.

Among the group who used savings or credit to pay for food:

  • Eight out of 10 (82%) worried about food prices
  • More than half (55%) said they were likely to cut back on food spending in the next few months
  • Nearly six out of 10 (57%) said they found it difficult to cope on their current income
  • A third (32%) borrowed money from friends and family in April

A typical weekly food bill averages about £76, Which? researchers said, up 4% on last year.

Of all the people polled, the research showed:

  • A quarter said they were living comfortably on their incomes
  • More than a third - 36% - felt their finances were under pressure
  • Almost one third - 31% - cut back spending on essentials last month, and were most likely to be women aged between 30 and 49.
'Mixed economic picture'

Mr Lloyd, Which? executive director, said: "Our tracker shows that many households are stretched to their financial breaking point, with rising food prices one of the top worries for squeezed consumers.

"It's simply shocking that so many people need to use savings or credit to pay for essentials like food."

BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam said the economic picture in Britain was decidedly mixed these days.

Start Quote

Families face a cost of living crisis and are being forced into debt or to use their savings simply to put food on the table”

End Quote Mary Creagh Shadow environment secretary

"It's true that millions are at what Which? describes as 'financial breaking point', yet retail spending is growing, as are house prices, while the number of people in work is at a record high."

He added that average real incomes in Britain had fallen to the same levels as a decade ago because salaries were not rising but the cost of living was.

"The good news is that the economy is recovering, albeit at a glacial pace. The bad news is that it's not happening quickly enough for millions who are genuinely struggling to make ends meet," he said.

A spokesman for Oxfam said millions of people were under pressure from a combination of rising prices and stagnant incomes - with their problems added to by cuts to services and safety nets.

Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow environment secretary, said the UK was facing a "growing epidemic of hidden hunger".

"Families face a cost of living crisis and are being forced into debt or to use their savings simply to put food on the table.

"This incompetent government needs to wake up to the human cost of their failed economic policies and change course now," she added.

A government spokesman said nine out of 10 working households would be better off as a result of last month's changes to the tax and benefit system - with the average working household better off by more than £300 a year.

"The economy is healing: the deficit is down by a third, over 1 million private sector jobs have been created and interest rates remain low," he added.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    Thanks to Thatcher et al. our wages has fallen in real terms since 1980. They will not increase, we will only get poorer while the rich get richer. All this nonsense about budgeting is rubbish, it will get to a point where no level of budgeting will enable you to eat. Let's take action now before we really are destitute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    61. TheTakeleySocialist - sorry, but with that screenname you don't get to call other people 'insular' or moan about their voting patterns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    It's because "There is no money left". Remember that nasty little note that the last Labour chief executive of the treasury left behind? Remember that next time you vote. It will take a generation to pay this debt back. Good luck comrades.

  • Comment number 316.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Don't agree with you completely but...

    Too many folk - on different income levels - are hypnotised by adverts that tell them that they cannot live without "such & such". People should live within their means & realise that we can't have all the "luxuries" we want. Of course, too many people have very little to start with (Tory policy), but we still need to live within our means!

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    I have a friend who lives on the dole, keeps two chauffer driven Rolls-Royces, has an army of servants to deal with his every need, and lives in a massive stately pile of a house. He is an imaginery friend of course because the benefits claimants I see, especially the long term ones tend to live on bad council estates, don't have a car and can't afford to drink.

  • Comment number 313.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Oh dear, sounds like living in the UK is getting bad. Is the UK becoming a 3rd world country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.


    Growing your own food is another reason why the UK needs to start building houses with gardens on a large scale instead of the rabbit hutches in the sky or the houses with courtyards barely big enough for a pot plant yet alone a veg patch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Get used to not eating.
    This government has no plans to improve the work situation. They are just managing the terminal decline of Britain.
    That`s why Hague said `no need for change of course`.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    8 years ago I was massively in debt, living off 20 quid a week for cheap food, got lunch and a 'stipend' at a company and, for 2 months, slept in an unused room at work without anyone realising. When I did get a f/t job, I lived long-distance from my family for 3 years. Whilst it was awful, I made it. Now earn 95k. I don't wish the experience on anyone, but struggling with cash is a fact of life

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    Sad to say this is payback by the elites who were much put out by the post ww2 settlement which delivered a rising share of national wealth to the "underlings" until Thatcherism - followed by son of Thatcher (Blair) -took hold.

    Privatisation, the vehicle for this turnaround, does the very opposite of what it says on the tin. Elitist wealth is abounding, we, poor saps, have to pay, and pay and..

  • Comment number 307.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Voting down the truth doesn't hide NuLabour collusion with the banks in the deceit of banking failures!
    The 'end to boom and bust' lie, the myth of a public sector driven economy, the countless awards to the banker's too close to to the 'halls of power', the increase in rich/poor divide, the most divisive political scandals since Profumo, the worst decline in manufacturing ever: a record of shame!

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    I'm guessing for most of them they will need to cut back on summer holidays and play stations then...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    If ye do not work then neither shall thy eat bread. The Evil Tories must have been around a long time !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    In my opinion, EU citizens should require work visas to work in the UK. Too many jobs are being done by EU citizens that could be done by British citizens in the UK. These jobs are not available for us in EU countries. Why? Most EU citizens speak English as a second language, how many people speak, say, Italian as a second language, or indeed any one of the numerous European languages?

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    I know life was never meant to be easy, but sometimes it it downright difficult.
    However borrowing money has to be the most stupid thing I ever heard of.
    When I retired I chopped up all my credit cards. Now I have to manage with the little I have. Buying seasonal vegetables only will save you heaps. Got a mobile phone? Get rid of it. Or your landline, but one has to go. Reduce Debt. Reduce Debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    @285 Are you for real? barter? I mean seriously, If people are really struggling so much that they need to barter, then they can live without internet and save money on their electricity bills to power their computer. Also, we're one of the most obese countries, are we really one step away from starvation? or are obese people stealing food perhaps? I refuse to buy into all this scaremongering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    277 mrwobbles
    yes a friend of mine got refered to a food bank by the dole office as things were tight.
    no thought of the 2 cars he has on the road, latest sky package, smoke etc.
    but it then makes statistics PROVE THE NEED FOR CHARITY.


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