UK Food Prices Among the Highest in Europe

A ‘concerted effort’ needed to end ‘the shame of food hunger’ – Dave Myers
Picture Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for Oxfam UK

A global food database prepared by Oxfam shows that people in the UK have among the highest and most volatile food prices in Western Europe. The Good Enough to Eat index, the first of its kind, compares data from 125 countries to create a global snapshot of the different challenges people face in getting the food they need to eat.

Record numbers of Scots have turned to food banks
Record numbers of Scots have turned to food banks
The index is released at a time when Scotland has seen a five-fold increase in the number of people using foodbanks in the past year. More than 20,000 Scots sought emergency assistance with food in the six months to September 2013.

Globally, one in eight people go hungry despite there being enough to feed everyone. The new index highlights how both the distribution of food and prices are important factors. It brings together data on whether people have enough to eat, can afford to eat, the quality of food and the health outcomes of people’s diet.

Overall, the index reveals the Netherlands, followed by France and Switzerland in joint second, are the best places for people to eat, while Chad is the worst followed by Angola and Ethiopia.

Scotland - an expensive place to find good food
Scotland – an expensive place to find good food

Hairy Biker chef Dave Myers has just returned from Cambodia, which is positioned 89th overall, where he visited Oxfam’s projects to help boost food security. He said it was “terrible to think that so many people go hungry in a world that produces more than enough. I have seen how Oxfam is bringing simple solutions to Cambodia to help farmers double rice production and make more from what they grow. All of this can change lives for good but a concerted global effort is needed if we are to end the shame of hunger which is clearly affecting people everywhere, even in the UK.”

The UK is among the worst performers in Western Europe on whether citizens can afford to eat, sharing 20th position with Cyprus, and with only Austrians and Icelanders faring worse. At a time of austerity, and with more than half a million people using food banks across the UK, the index reveals how people here face higher prices for food compared to other goods than almost everyone in Western Europe. Only Austrians and Italians face the same level of pressure while Cypriots have to pay more. The UK also ranked in the bottom half of all OECD countries on food price volatility.

Jamie Livingstone 'Shocking Indictment' of the UK
Jamie Livingstone
‘Shocking Indictment’ of the UK
This record on food prices means that the UK’s combined score puts it in 13th position. Instead, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland are joined by Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, Australia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy and Ireland in the top 12. All enjoy top marks for their lack of malnutrition and undernourishment and for access to safe water, while other measures, including obesity, have also lowered their final results.

At the bottom of the table, one in three children are underweight in Chad, where food is relatively more expensive than anywhere else, apart from Guinea and Gambia. Chad shares fourth worst position on the quality of food consumed.

Jamie Livingstone, Acting Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This index lays bare some of the challenges that people face in getting the food they need, regardless of where they come from. It reveals how the world is failing to ensure that everyone is able to eat healthily, despite there being enough food to go around.

“The UK’s failure to make the top table is a shocking indictment for the world’s sixth richest country. With a record number of people turning to food banks, including tens of thousands here in Scotland, the government must carry out an urgent inquiry into how welfare changes and cuts are exacerbating food poverty and deepening inequality.”

Danny McCafferty
Danny McCafferty
Oxfam has a relationship with the West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, through the Clydebank Independent Resource Centre (CIRC). Danny McCafferty, Chair of CIRC, pointed out that more and more people were “having to use resources like the Community Foodshare. Part of the reason is welfare reforms and benefit cutbacks. But the big problem is that there is an increasing number of people, whether they are in work or not, who are now on the margin of being able to afford basics like food.”

Oxfam is working worldwide to provide long-term solutions that will help people grow enough food to eat and make a living. In Chad, for example, Oxfam is helping farmers grow and diversify more crops, providing veterinary training to help ensure cattle are stronger, and helping to build more food storage so that people are better prepared for drought conditions.

The Good Enough to Eat index follows the launch of Oxfam’s new fundraising campaign Lift Lives for Good, which aims to show how simple solutions on the ground can bring lasting change to individuals and then their communities and beyond. The campaign is calling for action on two major challenges that can exacerbate food poverty: inequality and climate change.

Oxfam is calling for action in the UK to address growing inequality and the underlying challenges that people are increasingly facing such as unemployment, low wages and rising food and fuel prices. It wants an urgent government inquiry into the affect welfare changes and cuts are having.

Globally, Oxfam is campaigning for urgent action on climate change which presents a significant threat to food security, as well as investment in small-holder agriculture and infrastructure to boost crop production, prevent waste and improve access to markets.