One in seven people have skipped meals due to the rising cost of living, new Which? research finds, as the consumer champion calls on the government and essential businesses – such as energy companies, supermarkets and telecoms firms – to take action to help consumers.
According to the latest findings from Which?’s Consumer Insight Tracker, a worrying number of households are going without food and sitting in cold homes due to the rising cost of living.
One in seven (15%) said they had skipped meals – compared to one in eight (12%) in November. The new findings also showed nearly one in ten (9%) had prioritised meals for other family members above themselves and 4 per cent had used a food bank.
Jackie Rudd, aged 72 and from West Suffolk, has found that rising energy prices have left less room in her budget for grocery shopping. This has meant she is now skipping meals two to three times per week.
She said: “The last week of the month, meals are missed – if you have no money for a loaf then there’s no lunch and if there’s no milk, then there’s no breakfast. Basic groceries have gone up to stupid levels – the loaf of bread I usually buy has gotten smaller and more expensive.”
People are also looking for ways to save on their energy bills – with seven in ten (72%) saying they have put the heating on less due to rising prices, four in 10 (39%) using less hot water and one in five (19%) having had fewer cooked meals.
Concerningly, three in ten (29%) respondents who said they had put their heating on less said they have often or always felt physically uncomfortable this winter as a result.
One 85-year-old man said: “The house is cold due to the cost of heating, so I am continually wearing layer upon layer of clothes. Saving money on heating allows more money for food.”
A 30-year-old man said: “Our house is cold a lot of the time because the high costs of gas and electric makes a warm house unaffordable.”
Which?’s Consumer Insight Tracker also found that an estimated 2.3 million households said they missed or defaulted on a vital payment – such as a mortgage, rent, credit card or bill payment – in the last month. This is in line with the number who missed payments in January 2023, demonstrating that financial difficulty has remained high in early 2023.
Six in ten (59%) people made at least one financial adjustment – such as cutting back on essentials, selling items or dipping into savings – in the last month to cover essential spending. This equates to an estimated 16.5 million households.
This is a significant increase from the half (52%) making financial adjustments this time last year, but lower than the peak of two-thirds (65%) making adjustments in September 2022.
Which? is calling on the government and essential businesses to take action to support consumers with the rising cost of living and higher energy bills from next month.
With the main energy bill support scheme coming to an end and the energy price guarantee scheduled to jump to £3,000 for an average household in April, consumers will face higher bills from next month. The government must urgently consider postponing increasing the energy price guarantee to £3,000 to help those struggling to make ends meet.
The consumer champion is also calling on essential businesses – such as supermarkets, energy and telecom providers – to ensure that people have access to the best value products and services across the UK.
For example, supermarkets should increase availability of affordable and healthy own-brand budget ranges throughout their branches. Telecoms providers should cancel 2023 inflationary price hikes for financially vulnerable consumers – and allow all customers to leave without penalty when prices are hiked mid-contract.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
“It’s hugely worrying that households across the country are forced to go hungry and sit in cold homes as they cannot afford basic essentials this winter.
“Which? is calling on the government and essential businesses to do more to support their customers through this extraordinary cost of living crisis.
“With energy bills due to rise in April, the government must urgently consider postponing its decision to increase the energy price guarantee to £3,000. For some families, who continue to be battered by high inflation, this will offer an important lifeline to stop them falling into financial distress.”
Notes to editors
Which? cost of living campaign
The consumer champion launched a campaign calling on businesses in essential sectors – supermarkets, telecoms and energy – to do more to help their customers through the cost of living crisis. More information on the campaign is available here.
Consumer Insight Tracker
The Consumer Insight Tracker is an online poll conducted monthly by Yonder on behalf of Which?. It is weighted to be nationally representative with approximately 2,000 respondents per wave.
Which? estimates that between 7 per cent and 9.3 per cent of households missed or defaulted on at least one mortgage, rent, bill or credit payment in the last month, with an average estimate of 8.1 per cent. This amounts to between 2 million and 2.6 million households, with an average estimate of 2.3 million.
The survey indicates that between 57 per cent and 61 per cent of households made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month, with an average estimate of 59 per cent.
Based on the survey and the ONS estimate for the number of households in 2020 of 28.1 million, Which? estimates that between 15.9 million and 17.1 million households made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month, with an average estimate of 16.5 million.
Figure 1: 15 per cent of consumers say they have skipped meals due to rising costs
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave.
Figure 2: 8.1% of households said they had missed a payment in the last month in February 2023
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave. The chart shows the proportion of households who have missed a housing, bill, loan or credit card payment in the last month.
Figure 3: Six in ten households made at least one adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave. Adjustments include: cutting back, dipping into savings, borrowing from friends and family, taking out credit cards or loans, selling items, using an overdraft.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at firstname.lastname@example.org.