SPERI’s latest British Political Economy Brief reveals the difficulty of low income households in the UK to afford sufficient food and fuel. The combination of growing food bank use, welfare cuts and rising energy bills has led to a high-profile political debate about food and fuel poverty in the UK, and the impact of austerity on low income households. Attention has focused on the choice between ‘heating or eating’ that many people are seen to face.
The new Brief by SPERI Research Fellow Hannah Lambie-Mumford and Carolyn Snell (Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York) confirms that the ‘heating or eating’ dilemma exists, but says the reality is more complex and severe than is often reported in the media and political debates. Interviews with food bank users revealed that their decision is not choosing to heat or eat, but how to spend less on their food and fuel. The Brief also presents new findings on the specific challenges faced by rural communities which drive rural food and fuel poverty.
Hannah Lambie-Mumford, co-author of the Brief, said:
“The ‘heat or eat’ dilemma is real, but our research suggests that this winter many low income households won’t be able to afford either sufficient food or fuel. These incredibly tough budgeting decisions are leading households to prioritise and ration their spending in complex ways. Food is often prioritised over heating, although cheaper food is often bought out of necessity, and using energy for lighting, cooking and hot water is often prioritised over heating.”“Low income households face a combination of further large cuts to the welfare budget which risk forcing them to reduce their spending on food and fuel, and cuts to council budgets which risk weakening local support services. Action is urgently needed to address the root causes of food and fuel poverty.”
Find out more about Hannah’s research on food poverty and insecurity, the rise of emergency food provision and the right to food here.