Cost of living crisis: UK supermarkets pledge to help families

July 6, 2023

A number of UK supermarkets are making pledges to help struggling families through the cost of living crisis, with Morrisons committing to stock its Savers range in convenience stores, and Lidl promising to donate 1.8m meals to low-income families through the summer holidays, to help prevent “holiday hunger”.

Asda also, has locked the price of more than 500 of its popular branded and own-label products. The supermarket in its latest Income Tracker report found that 80% of UK households saw a drop in their disposable income in May, compared to the same period last year, as the cost of living crisis continues to put pressure on family budgets and wage growth.

It said that the decrease in disposable income has been particularly hard for low-earning families, with 40% of UK households falling into negative income territory in May – meaning their take home pay does not cover spending on bills and essentials. The average shortfall for these households was £42.50 per week in May 2023, the report said.

Lidl’s plans will involve food being distributed through its charity network partner Neighbourly and other local organisations, and will include donations from its stores, as well as customer donations through its ‘Good to Give’ scheme – the supermarket’s ongoing campaign to increase the nutritional variety of meals provided for families in need.

Morrisons’ CEO David Potts said the supermarket would stock Savers budget range across its Daily convenience stores to make it easier for low-income families to access the budget range, after consumer watchdog Which? finding that supermarket-branded convenience stores don’t offer budget grocery lines in the most vulnerable areas, despite 66% of those on less that £21k per year shopping in a smaller store at least once a week.

All this comes amid accusations of profiteering by supermarkets through the cost of living crisis, with shareholders being paid dividends of more than £700m.

This is an accusation that has been strongly denied, with supermarket chiefs arguing that the UK food market is “one of the most competitive in the world”, and Tesco commercial director, Gordon Gafa, telling the Commons Business and Trade Committee that the chain is the “most competitive we have ever been”.

But committee chair, Darren Jones, told another publication: “The public will question why, for at least some of the supermarkets, higher profits, higher dividends and high executive pay can be possible in a so-called cost of living crisis.”

It comes after the Office for National Statistics published the latest inflation figures showing that food price rises have eased slightly but remain at a stubbornly high 18.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, in related news, supermarkets and health charities have criticised the UK government’s decision to push back plans to ban multi-buy deals on ultra processed and high sugar/salt food until 2025, amid the cost-of-living crisis. Rishi Sunak argued that UK consumers need as much choice as possible, but critics have accused it of “dithering” over the issue. Despite this, supermarkets in Wales, as well as Sainsburys and Tesco have committed to pausing or banning BOGOF deals on this so-called HFSS food.

In addition, a recent report The Food Foundation’s most recent annual Broken Plate report, the poorest fifth of the population would need to spend half of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the government’s Eatwell Guide, compared with just 11% for the least deprived fifth.

It claims that that healthier foods are over twice as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods. For example, more healthy foods increased in price over the past two years by £1.76 per 1,000kcal compared with £0.76 for less healthy foods.

Author of the national food strategy independent review, Henry Dimbleby, said: “It is a complete fantasy to suppose that the huge problems of diet-related disease are going to be solved by voluntary measures.

“The commercial incentives for companies to produce food that makes us sick are overwhelming. Just look at the results of the voluntary sugar reformulation programme. Cereals and yogurts are a staple of many families’ diets, and the huge levels of sugar still in so many products is shocking. We need to do better.”

Chair of work and pensions select committee, Rt Hon Sir Stephen Timms MP, added: “To enable every child to fulfil their potential, we need to make a healthy diet affordable. The benefits system is the place to start. Benefit levels don’t seem at present to be benchmarked to essentials, like the cost of a healthy diet, but instead result from a series of arbitrary changes.”

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