Page last updated at 09:33 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 10:33 UK

Warning of food price hike crisis

The price of pork sausages has gone up 51% in the past year

A crisis is unfolding in the UK as people in poverty struggle with rising food prices and the recession, the Save the Children charity has warned.

It comes as new figures from The Grocer magazine show food prices rose by more than 18% over the last year.

On Monday, the charity will launch a crisis grant scheme to help families.

The government says it believes food prices have peaked and it is tackling child poverty through increased child benefits and child tax credits.

'More unequal'

Colette Marshall, of Save the Children, said: "We are facing a crisis. Benefits simply haven't been enough and with rising food costs it means that families cannot afford to give children proper decent food.

"We think we are heading towards malnutrition here in the UK."

Pensioner on her struggle with food costs

She is calling on the government to meet its target of halving child poverty by 2010 by putting £3bn in the Budget.

Penny Greenhough, a single mother of two young children, said the family was struggling on a food budget of £3 per head per day.

"I am having to compromise on a daily basis on quality and quantity. I used to manage, but it's getting harder and harder," she told BBC News.

"Once you get into the supermarket then you have got to start looking for the cheapest of everything, every type of commodity you want, whether it is soap powder, some meat or bread or anything else, it's always the cheapest variety," said pensioner Rita Young.

"We have to go for the cheapest of everything and it's just not doing us any good. Too much salt, too much fat, too much sugar - cheap, cheap, cheap, just isn't good enough."

Rice - up 81%
Pork sausages - up 51%
Mince - up 22%
Milk - up 14%
Source: The Grocer

Kate Green, of the Child Poverty Action Group, said that many families were buying less fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, and consuming more affordable tinned and packet food that was often higher in sugar, salt and fat.

Government efforts had lifted 600,000 children out of poverty in the last 10 years, but one in three still lived below the poverty line, she said.

"Part of the problem is... many people have seen their prosperity improve over the last 10 years, so we have become a much more unequal country," she said.

"That is very damaging for the people who just haven't kept up, and it really is quite wrong morally, and it's economically very stupid actually, not to make sure that we share the resources more equally and protect those who have least."

According to The Grocer, a typical basket of 33 items of food cost £48 a year ago. That has now risen to £57.50.

Seasonal produce has caused a small drop in monthly figures, but the cost of basic essentials remains high.

Extra benefits

James Ball, from the magazine, told the BBC: "It is the staples that have really gone up and that's tough for people who buy the cheapest food.

"Rice costs double what it did last year, baked beans are up more than a third. Lots of everyday items cost a lot more than they used to."

As the UK imports about 40% of its food, the weak pound has driven up prices. Unpredictable world harvests and a spike in oil prices last year have also played a part.

However, as British produce comes into season, prices are expected to drop.

Treasury minister Stephen Timms said a raft of benefits due to come in on Monday would help struggling families.

"Extra help on child benefit, child tax credit, the state pension, and pension credits is going to assist children, families and older people who are feeling the pinch at the moment.

"Of course we always look at the time of the budget to see if there is more that can be done but I think people will appreciate the help that is being provided."

A selection of your comments:

I am currently on JSA of £121.00 every two weeks. With this money I am expected to pay ALL my household bills and feed my daughter. If it hadn't been for my family, who are in a better position than I, we would be starving by now!
Lois, Milton Keynes

Food prices have gone up for working people like me who although working only earn a minimum yet are not eligable for any bennefits to help towards food etc.
John Williams, Hornchurch, England

I work in one of the inner city schools and although I see many children on very low income, sometime I wonder about their parents priorities.

Most children (not all) have mobiles and laptops in their bedrooms, latest outfits but also shirts with no buttons on or dirty.

I too have grown up with a single mum back in the 50s, but then despite the post war crises the pride and prioties were different. Children did not have everything that they wanted. Mums cooked their own food rather then bought convenience food.
Ann, Staffordshire, UK

In the past I have done all my shopping at one supermarket, now i regularly check the leaflets, internet and collect coupons to try and help get the basics and try and provide a healthy balanced diet, but it is an incredible struggle and it worries me that with increasingly rising costs I may not be able to do that soon. Just keeping a basic 'fruit bowl' at the moment requires me going to 3 seperate shops to get the best offers and give my children their 5 aday!
SJ Baron, St Helens, Merseyside

It is all very well increasing child / working tax credits but unfortunately a majority of those on tax credits will also get housing / council tax benefits which are then reduced as any income is increased. So alot of people (especially single parents as I am) will be no better off...If I went to work full time I would be even worse off as childcare is so expensive.
Jane, Essex

I am currently on benefits and I find it very difficult to make ends meet. By the time I pay my electricity, grocery and other outgoings, I am completely broke the day after I get my giro. I don't know how people with children cope, as it can't be easy. My mother makes a good point when she says that if the government think an old age pensioner can't live on less that £100 odds a week, how do they expect you to manage on what you get? £60.50 a week doesn't go far, when you are trying to keep a home, that's for sure and yes, you do cut back on food, rather than go cold or sit in the dark.
Catherine Evans, Fort William, Highlands, Scotland

It's awful. I have started buying frozen mince to save money and the cheapest rice and pasta and less fruit
Patrick McGahon, Cambridge

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