Food is central to all our lives. It can make a home or be the focal point of our social lives, and it reflects who we are and what we want to be. Whether it’s a roast round the kitchen table or a Chinese on the sofa, food is on all of our minds.
However, while it can bring a lot of joy, food is a real headache for many people. Holiday hunger and food banks dominate the headlines, while a shocking 49% of all high-cost credit is spent on food.
Accessing affordable, quality, fresh food is a challenge, worsened by insecure jobs, low pay and exacerbated by the housing and transport crises. Many people face impossible decisions: from which bills they should pay; to whether to prioritise food or fuel, school trips or uniforms, and repayments debt.
So what is the food poverty premium?
The poverty premium is well understood. We all know that poorer people pay more for the same goods and services. The food poverty premium is less well-known, but it is pervasive, unfair and wrong.
You experience the food poverty premium when:
The shops in your community carry a limited range of usually expensive fresh ingredients or plenty of cheap poor quality food
High public transport or even taxis to and from the supermarket adds to your weekly food shop costs
You get paid on the day so you can’t plan your weekly shop or easily buy food when you have cash in your pocket so you buy what you can when you can
You don’t have a car so you can only buy what you can carry
You lack the money to benefit from multi-buys
You lack storage space, large freezers or cooking equipment to batch cook.
The food poverty premium means people lack choices.
This lack of choice means they can reach for takeaways (expensive, OMG! levels of sugar, fat and salt), ready meals (high in salt, high in sugar and not that tasty!) or last-minute dashes to local convenience shops for ingredients to cook (expensive and stressful!)
Solving the food poverty premium
So how can food provision adapt to meet the needs of lower-income families, allowing them to get great food at fair prices? Food banks are one of the most high-profile solutions providing food support for families, often as a crisis response rather than a long-term sustainable option. Social supermarkets are another variation, offering discounted options for customers at a central community location.
However, given the difficulties around transport there is a real need for lower-income families to benefit from new ways of accessing low-cost food. The rise of meal boxes in the UK has seen choice and ease of access become easy to implement and scalable. The next step in combatting the food poverty premium is to harness the great benefits of this product offering for new consumers who are eager to cook great food.