More than four in five people in the U.K. are worried about rising living costs and their ability to afford basics necessities like food and energy over the coming months, according to a new survey.
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LONDON — A quarter of Britons have resorted to skipping meals as inflationary pressures and a worsening food crisis conflate in what the Bank of England recently dubbed an “apocalyptic” outlook for consumers.
More than four in five people in the U.K. are worried about rising living costs and their ability to afford basics necessities like food and energy over the coming months, according to a new survey released Tuesday.
In a survey of 2,000 Britons conducted by Ipsos and Sky News, 89% said they were concerned about how the cost-of-living crisis would affect the country as a whole over the next six months, while 83% were concerned about their personal circumstances.
While the picture was broadly similar nationwide, those on lower wages were more acutely worried, with more than half of those earning under £20,000 ($25,000) describing themselves as “very concerned” about how they would make ends meet this year. That compares to two in five of those earning £55,000 or more.
A major British caterer said separately Tuesday that schools were now facing “difficult decisions” as to whether to reduce meal sizes or use lower quality ingredients amid surging prices.
‘Apocalyptic’ price hikes
The findings come after Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said Monday that rising prices and food scarcity issues from the war in Ukraine were a real worry for Britain and many other parts of the world.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty around this situation,” Bailey told the Treasury Committee at the House of Commons.
“Sorry for being apocalyptic for a moment, but that is a major concern,” he said.
Bailey added that such external factors would have a greater impact on price increases than any recent or forthcoming interest rate hikes. The central bank chief, who has spearheaded four consecutive interest rate hikes since December, dismissed suggestions that policymakers should have acted sooner to quell inflation.
British grocery inflation hit 5.9% in April, its highest level since December 2011, according to market researcher Kantar. That as wider U.K. inflation hit a 30-year-high of 7% last month amid rising energy costs.
British retailer Marks & Spencer warned on Tuesday that food price inflation could soar further to 10% by the end of this year.
“It wouldn’t be surprising to see food price inflation over the course of the year running towards 8-10%,” Archie Norman, chairman of the high-end food brand, told BBC radio Tuesday. “Some has gone through now but still quite a lot’s to come.”
Norman added, however, that Bailey’s use of the word “apocalyptic” was heavy-handed given wider economic factors, like wage increases. “I wouldn’t use the word apocalyptic, certainly not for our customers,” he said.
Food scarcity fears mount
Food scarcity concerns have been mounting over recent months as the war in Ukraine has exacerbated existing food supply chain issues.
Ukraine, seen as a “breadbasket of Europe,” has been unable to export grains, fertilizers and vegetable oil amid the conflict, while ongoing fighting has destroyed crop fields and disrupted regular harvests.
MHP, the largest producer and exporter of chicken in Ukraine and a major supplier of grain and sunflower oil, said Tuesday that the current situation amounted to an agricultural crisis.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” John Rich, MHP executive chairman and an industry veteran, told CNBC.
“We have Covid, we’ve got a war, we’ve got the China Covid-zero policy — which has made freight just about impossible — and we’ve got climate change. All of this has compounded, frankly, into a non-functional global supply chain system,” he said.
The United States and the European Union said over the weekend that they are looking at how to improve food supply chains and navigate export restrictions.
It comes after India on Saturday announced a ban on wheat exports to “manage the overall food security of the country.” Indonesia, meanwhile, earlier implemented restrictions on exports of palm oil — a key component in many food products — in a bid to curb food shortages at home.